My lifelong love affair with snakes started with a heart-breaking incident that took place in the year 1987 when I was studying in class seven. Ganesh belonged to a very poor family from a small village in Latur district. He was one of my closest friends. He used to work in STD booths during the mornings and during holidays. Very hardworking and obedient by nature he used to stay in a modest rented room near my house. We loved each other’s company and we would share the day to day happenings with each other.
One day Ganesh suddenly disappeared without informing me about his whereabouts. I panicked at his absence and later went to the owner of the STD booth where he worked. Ganesh’s employer informed me that he had gone to his village as his sister was admitted in a hospital.
Since he was my best friend, I went to meet Ganesh and his family at the hospital. The entire family was under immense stress which saddened me further. Since both of us were kids, I didn’t know how to help my friend. I returned home after consoling Ganesh that everything would be fine.
Once back home, I was unable to control my tears. The stressed faces of Ganesh’s family members at the hospital kept haunting me. Eventually Ganesh came back and since he didn’t know anyone in our town, I convinced my mother to give him food regularly.
While talking to him I got to know that his married sister had come home for Diwali and while helping in the fields was bitten by a venomous snake. Though she was taken to the civil hospital, her condition worsened and she was shifted to Latur. Despite being shifted to a higher hospital, her condition worsened with each passing day. Due to the high hospital bill, the family had to take a loan by mortgaging their land. Unfortunately, Ganesh’s sister died despite best efforts by his family to save her. The family went into debt and lost their land, money and most importantly their beloved daughter. This incident ruined a happy flourishing family. The trauma saddened me to the core.
It is true that the most painful goodbyes are the ones that are never said and never explained. That day was the turning point in my life. I decided to learn about snakes and the effect of a venomous snakebite. I was determined to help victims of venomous snakebites.
I was too young to understand how snakes were caught or handled and how emergency treatment was to be given in case of a venomous snakebite. I was however determined to learn more on this subject.
A few days after this incident I was travelling to Pune with my friends. During a walk on Tilak Road I came across a scrap merchant. I asked him if he had any book on snakes. He gave me a book which was priced at Rs.10. Learning about snakes from the book perhaps was the defining event that led to my passion for snakes and other reptiles. My interest in reptiles kept increasing with each passing day.
I knew that if I travelled to Pune I could source more books on snakes. However, the issue was the money needed for the travel. So, I started saving money and waited for six months. Even after six months of saving, I was short of a few bucks. I had to resort to stealing and with that money I went to Pune and met the same scrap merchant and asked for few more books on snakes and other reptiles. After a long wait of four days he gave me an English book on snakes.
Though I was happy to have that book I was not sure if I could learn much from the book as I had a negligible command over the English language. I put all my energy into improving my English skills. A book by the name “Snakes of India” by P.G. Deoras fired my passion to be a snake rescuer.
If there is a burning desire within you, anything can be accomplished. Knowledge from the snake books and field guidance from a few local rescuers took me on a journey of rescuing more than 50,000 snakes and hatchlings in my region. Being a rescuer and social activist, I was able to help more than 100 snake bite victims to get to the hospital in time and in some cases donated towards the treatment of poor victims.
Snakes are grossly misunderstood creatures. Everyone in our community should be made aware of snakes and other reptiles. They are not the villains as portrayed in many of the Bollywood movies. They are the most shy and sensitive creatures and try to get away from humans. When we come in contact with a snake, it usually warns and tries to flee the scene. Snakes generally bite in self-defence when cornered. To illustrate this example, I would like to share a rescue incident where I was bitten by a juvenile Spectacled Cobra. It was night time and the snake was inside a house that was small and congested with furniture and other household items. The entire neighbourhood had gathered out of curiosity. As I entered the house and tried rescuing the snake, got distracted for a split second due to the onlookers shouting instructions etc. The juvenile snake bit me on my right-hand thumb. I suffered envenomation and was immediately rushed to the hospital. I was in the ICU (Intensive Care Unit) for two days and later shifted to the general ward for a day. In total I was administered 27 vials of snake antivenom. Learnt my lesson from this incident and try to rescue snakes in a more controlled environment and under the local forest department guidance.
The importance of snakes and other reptiles in the environment is immense. They help strike a balance in nature. They fill the important role of being both predator and prey and their presence and removal directly impacts the health of the ecosystem.
SAVE A SNAKE & SAVE THE ENVIRONMENT……BE A SNAKE FRIEND
Story & Images contributed by Bhima Shankar Gadve, Latur.