In Stories

The Strike of the King Cobra

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.

pic1_website

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.

 

pic2
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.

pic3
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.

15 Comments

  • Mahith c konkanahalli
    Sep 25, 2015 at 10:45 am

    That was nice description. I was waiting for the reason behind this.

    • admin
      Sep 26, 2015 at 03:43 am

      Thanks you Mahith Konkanahalli. :)

  • Dr H.S.Bawaskar
    Sep 25, 2015 at 12:54 pm

    Senior citizen should not involved for snake rescue. During old age the reflexes are blunted and loos catch may result such accident. Why to disturb a silence snake leave him alone.
    However if one go to catch king cobra at least he must carry huge amount of ASV with him

    • admin
      Sep 25, 2015 at 03:25 pm

      Dr Bawaskar, Many thanks for your inputs. I’m wondering if using the available polyvalent ASV (which is made using the venom of Sp Cobra, C Krait, Russell’s vipe and Saw Scaled Viper) in India will be effective in a King Cobra bite.

      • Dr.jose
        Sep 26, 2015 at 01:01 am

        As of now theres no difference between venom of king cobra and spectacled cobra except that quantity of venom injected by the king is way more…so mostly yes polyvalent asv should work but might require more than 10 units loading dose as the principle of antivenom 1:1 neutralisation….

        • admin
          Sep 26, 2015 at 03:40 am

          Dear Dr Jose,
          Thank you for your feedback. Sir…The King Cobra & the Sp Cobra are entirely different species. More over there have been very few bite cases reported and hence perhaps there needs to be more research and reported cases examined before arriving at conclusions.
          Request you to please share details of any cases you may have handled. Your feedback will help us learn much more than we already do.
          Sincere regards,
          Priyanka Kadam.

  • Smita Dikshit
    Sep 25, 2015 at 05:07 pm

    Seriously saddened to hear of a casualty where human failure strikes foremost in the face. In my area, I know two rescuers who handle any snake only with catching equipment and immediately on rescue transfer them to a gunny bin that is secured to not only minimize stress to the reptile but also to rule out subsequent escape. I am wondering that was his age a contributing factor to such an instantaneous death? No doubt the venom injected by the specimen clearly visible in the pictures, would have been much and also the subsequent bites pumped in more venom, yet the autopsy report probably would reveal more. The use of lemon juice to wash the bite area, can anyone throw light on the rationale behind it? Does the pH change denature the venom proteins?

    • admin
      Sep 26, 2015 at 03:45 am

      Dear Smita,
      Thanks for your feedback and support to SHE. Will wait for an expert to address your query on washing bite areas with lemon and water.
      Cheers,
      Priyanka.

  • Dr Vijay Vasudev Pillay
    Sep 26, 2015 at 05:18 am

    A tragic case which is very well written and has a very important message – never take the job of catching a venomous snake lightly, however many years of experience you may have. With regard to the query as to whether the polyvalent antivenom available in India will work against envenomation by a King Cobra, I doubt it very much. The Common Cobra and the King Cobra are snakes belonging to different species. While some cross specificity is possible, efficacy may not be enough. I am not really sure as to the utility of lemon juice to wash the bite site.

    • admin
      Sep 26, 2015 at 07:13 am

      Dear Dr Pillay,
      Delighted to see you take time out from your busy schedule to post your feedback regarding this incidence. Appreciate your advice on both…effectiveness of the polyvalent ASV used in India to treat King Cobra bites and the use of lemon juice to clean snakebite wounds.
      Sincere regards,
      Priyanka Kadam.

  • Manjunath
    Sep 26, 2015 at 07:56 am

    I have been actively studying and documenting the king since the venom dose is more from the king yes chances of survival are very remote we are definitely working on this antivenom availability which should help the common man

  • Rohith Hebbar
    Sep 26, 2015 at 07:14 pm

    It’s a very unfortunate incident. As I hail from kalasa, I know Mr. Bhat for quite sometime. We live in foot hills of western Ghats. Man animal conflicts are common here. Department of forest has to ensure to relocate back to reserve areas as and when they turn towards human dwellings. People lead a challenging life nearby national forest.

  • Prakash shetty
    Sep 27, 2015 at 04:56 am

    Really nice one article..

    I too worked with Praful bhat in 2 – 3 cases. His risk taking capacity was amazing..its a great loss to our forest department,I think defnately he had some knwoledge about medicine for snake biting..its related to lemon and some leaf because in one case when I worked with him that time he had a small bite from a snake and he used a lemon for medicine bt no one know about that medicine ..RIP Prafhul Bhat..we miss him very much..

  • Aaron Fernandes
    Sep 27, 2015 at 11:04 am

    Just a thought….How much of shade was/is there in the 100 meter distance that the unfortunate Mr Prafulla Bhatt walked, with the King in his hand?. However considering its ectothermic nature could one of the reasons contributing to the bites be the prolonged exposure to the heat of the sun? It was according to this article at the peak of noon yeah? ..Perhaps this is also something that rescuers could keep in mind when they could otherwise just bag it as soon as possible. Correct me if i am wrong…

  • R.S.Sharath
    Sep 27, 2015 at 05:49 pm

    It is sad end to an experienced snake rescuer like Late. Prafulla Bhat who had a tragic end. All snake rescuers must learn the lesson from this story that while handling snakes it is always safe to use tongues and bags so that u may not have to handle them with bare hands. Safety first, show up next. As risk taking with wild animals may some times lead to such traggic end, Thereafter may end up on photoframes with garland.
    I sincerely urge all snake rescuers to be careful while handling snakes.
    Love Snakes,Care snakes and be careful while handling them ,we would love to see people who love snakes live long so that snakes also get due respect in the world where we live together.

Leave a Reply

Send Us Message

*

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>