This story is from Kalasa town in the Mudegera Taluka, Chikmagalur Dictrict in Karnataka. A man had died of a King Cobra bite in Chikmagalur, Karnataka. This was a first for me as the King is an otherwise non-combative snake and prefers to flee than to stand its ground and attack. The incident happened on 22nd Sept 2015 (3 days ago) at around 2pm. By 23rd Sept 2015 the pictures were making the rounds on social media. I received the bite related pictures from 3 sources but no one knew who the affected victim was or the background to this incident. With much help from Oumkar Umesh, a special correspondent with Samaya TV, the author was able to document this incident by contacting the plantation owner who had called the victim, Prafulla Bhat, a local snake rescuer to re-locate the snake.
Background of the victim: Prafulla Bhat, a 67 year old rescuer, belonged to an affluent family in Kalasa town. The family owned tracts of land for farming and also shops selling various goods from jewellery to clothes to perishable goods. Prafulla Bhat had been rescuing snakes for the last 30 years and indulged in free handling. This hobby had made him a household name in the area.
Bite Incident: A King Cobra was spotted in an estate in the Kalakodu area at around 1 p.m. on 22nd Sept 2015. Kalakodu is around 10 kms from the Kalasa town. The snake was resting in the coffee plantation section of the estate. The estate was spread over 60 acres of land divided into three parts and had areca nut, pepper, cardamom and coffee plantation in different sections.
September to November is the time for pruning and cleaning of the vegetation in preparation of the harvesting season that lasts from December to February. King Cobras are generally sighted on the estate 2-3 times a year as they stray from the neighbouring Kudremukh forest reserve. The terrain is forested and hilly and a lone stream flows through the Kalakodu estate. During summers, this water body attracts wild life from the reserve.
Generally the King is left alone but this time the sighting was quiet close to the staff quarters. Mr Dhanaresh, the plantation owner, was concerned that unwanted man-animal conflict may occur and hence decided to get the snake relocated.
Prafulla Bhat was informed about the resting snake around 1.30pm and he came to the site in less than 30 minutes. The snake was lying in a straight line. It was captured in 5 minutes flat and Prafulla Bhat started walking towards the staff quarters with the snake’s head held in one hand.. He covered the 100 meters with the snake in his hand. The snake had been in the deathly grip for a long spell and stressed. The plantation carpenter and other workers gathered around Prafulla Bhat and the snake to take pictures.
A split second of distraction was enough to spell disaster. Prafulla Bhat held the snake’s head in his left hand and moved his right hand at a biting distance from the snake’s mouth. The king immediately bit Prafulla Bhat on his right hand palm. Prafulla Bhat asked for water and lemon to clean his wound. The snake was still locked in his left hand. Within 5 mins of the bite, the snake wriggled free from Prafulla Bhat’s grip and coiled itself around his fallen body biting him twice on the back and making loud hissing sounds to warn the spectators to keep away.
Mr Dhanaresh, who had just returned after parking his car, immediately sprung into action. He ran and brought a PVC pipe from the godown nearby and while the snake was hissing loudly, shoved the pipe towards its face. All that the by now stressed out snake wanted was to escape. It immediately went inside the pipe. The pipe was secured from both the sides and Prafulla Bhat’s body dragged away to be taken to the hospital.
Prafulla Bhat’s lifeless body had been retrieved within 5-7 minutes of the bite incident and put in the car to be taken to Prabhu Clinic, a private hospital in Kalasa. Dr Vishwanath Prabhu was a close family friend of the Bhats. The rescue party along with Prafulla Bhat reached the hospital within 10 minutes.
Mr Dharanesh, the plantation owner who took the victim to the hospital in his car shared that Prafulla Bhat could have been dead within 10 minutes of the bite as there was no movement in his body while they were transporting him to the hospital. After being declared dead, the victims’s kith and kin lodged a police complaint and took the body to the Govt. hospital in Kalasa. He was again declared dead by Dr Manasa who managed the post mortem and other formalities after which the body of the deceased was handed over to the family at 4.30 p,m.
Meanwhile the snake was later handed over to the Forest department to be released in the forest reserve nearby.
Praffula Bhat’s wife was away in Udipi. The family waited for her to arrive and he was cremated in the wee hours of 23rd Sept 2015. This was perhaps the second serious bite Prafulla Bhat had suffered in his life time. The earlier one around 6 years ago was another venomous snake bite that festered and he had to be treated at the Manipal Hospital in Karnataka for almost 45 days.
This story has an unfortunate ending wherein a rescuer lost his life. Prafulla Bhat had rescued around 10-12 King Cobras in this season and his risk taking ability got the better of him.
A few thumb rules for rescuers rescuing venomous snakes:
1. Never touch the snake with bare hands. Use snake handling equipment.
2. No showmanship during rescue and release.
3. No engagement with the on looking crowd which can hamper concentration levels.
4. A small awareness talk can be done with the on looking spectators after bagging and safely putting away the snake.
5. Know the distribution of venomous snakes in your area and be aware of the species and their behaviour before embarking on rescues.
6. Do not encourage unnecessary handling.
7. Never risk your life to catch the snake.
Snakebite Healing and Education Society has documented this story through inputs from Mr Dharanesh KC, The plantation owner and Mr Oumkar Umesh, a special correspondent with Samaya TV. The pictures used in this story are images clicked by the plantation staff.
Written by Priyanka Kadam.