In conversation with Amol Jadhav, B.E. (E & TC), MBA (Oper), a reformed Snake Rescuer cum Stuntman.
Q1. Please tell us about your family background and what made you fall in love with reptiles especially snakes?
Ans: My father is in a government job in the telecom sector, there is absolutely no connection between him and snakes or wild animals; in short there was no guiding figure at home who would tell m about wild animals and slithering creatures and thus create an interest towards them in me. In school, I took Maths tuition from Kudale Madam. Her husband Mr Ravindra Kudale was a zoologist and was a Professor in Tuljaram Chaturchand College. Mr Kudale would work towards saving snakes in his area. When I would go to his home for tuition, I was often able to see him washing the snakes’ glass jars, feeding a weak snake and keeping snakes in the morning mild sun. I was awe struck on seeing such things. Sometimes I would offer to help wash the glass jars; I would feed frogs to the snakes. In this manner, I started work in this field by washing glass jars in October 2003 or so.
Q2. From what age did you start rescuing?
Ans: Age 13 years, from October 2003. I’m now 27 years old.
Q3. Have you ever been bitten (please be honest)?
Ans: on 13th May 2013, I was bitten by a Saw Scaled Viper (Phurse in marathi). After having ‘front kissed’ a Phurse, there was a slight movement of a finger. My right hand middle finger was bitten. It was around 3-3.30pm. Within 15 minutes, I was admitted to the Rui Gramin Hospital in Baramati. The bite area turned black with slight swelling within 15minutes. Doctors at the hospital administered 5 vials of snake antivenom. I was absolutely normal during the treatment. After 2 hours of administering the 5 vials, the bite area suffered further swelling. The doctors administered further 5 vials. Next morning, while the swelling reduced, the finger was black and hence doctors induced further 3 vials. Total vials used was 13 vials. My family members who first thought I was bitten by a non-venomous snake were very concerned after knowing I had suffered envenomation. They tried reasoning with me to not take any risks in future.
Q4. Why did you start performing stunts with highly venomous snakes?
Ans: I would always think that a snake does not bite a lifeless object like a stone or wood which it sees in front of it but will immediately attack a human. Therefore, keeping my heartbeats extremely calm and having carefully observed factors like time of the day, temperature, snake’s nature and connected aspects, I would make my hand like a stone, take a Ghonas (Russell’s Viper) upon my hand or keep a Phurse on my face or kiss a cobra which had not spread its hood or front kiss a King Cobra. I was involved in such activities for a long time.
Q5. What were your thoughts when a snake rescuer died because of performing stunts with venomous snakes?
Ans: I have seen many snake friends suffering due to the superficial way in which they pursue their interest. Many a “sarpamitra” or “snake-friends” who did not study snakes properly and merely handled venomous snakes being inspired by seeing my pictures got bitten. Not having proper knowledge of the snake and its behavior landed such handlers in trouble. Losing a co–worker and a friend makes you feel sad and the regret of losing a sarpa-mitra always remains in the mind. Whenever I met a deceased sarpmitra’s family members, seeing the entire circumstances, it occurred to me that I must stop what I am doing at some stage.
6. Would you recommend to the young learners to use snake handling equipment?
Ans: I would definitely recommend using snake handling equipments. Sometimes when we do not have equipments with us and come across a rescue situation, we improvise. Depending upon the circumstances, Ncessary items like boots and snake hook must be used.
Q7. What is your final message to all rescuers who do stunts? Is risking the life worth it?
Ans: Handling snakes can definitely be life threatening. Hence pay attention on doing whatever you do in a safe manner. Varad Giri, senior scientist often counselled us Sarpmitras that this extremely dangerous and risky type of handling must stop. I did not pay heed initially though he kept repeating himself. However, it occurred to me that there must be some reason behind his saying so. I got to know the reason and then decided that I must stop this. Having heard and understood him I decided to do something good for this field. From the knowledge acquired by me, I have prepared a mobile app for the snake rescuers.
Parting note: I would love to impart my knowledge of snakes to new learners. Being an educator comes with its own responsibilities
Interviewed by Priyanka Kadam, Founder : Snakebite Healing & Education Society (SHE)
Translated from the Marathi to English by Mukund Mohan Sharma (Pune).