India is popularly known to the world for its cultural heritage and unity in diversity. Our culture and religious views have always led the way. We love and worship nature in all its forms. Indian rituals are meaningless without the flora and the fauna. Like the Egyptians, the Indian culture has also placed the ox, bull, cow, tiger, lion, owl and many other animals on an equal platform with the Gods and Goddess.
India is also the home to many wild animals which are bound only within Indian Territory. We, the people of India always care, love and protect those animals. But in case of the Snakes this respect and love turns into fear and curse. A self controversial picture has come up from different parts of India. Respect belongs to this animal for its direct relationship with the ultimate creator and destructor of the Universe - Lord Shiva who adorns his throat with this ‘venomous’ animal according to ‘Shiva Mahapuran’. Snakes have been bringing bread to innumerable families of snake charmers since time immemorial. This traditional culture is prevalent in our society till date in different provinces. In West Bengal, snakes grab extra attention among all bangalee people for being the familiar of Devi Manasa, the presiding goddess of the snakes. Her fight for securing the position as a devi in heaven is described in ‘Mansa Mangal Kavya’. In Bengal she is worshipped throughout the rainy season with different regional names, one of it being Jhapan, where the devotees literally play with the snakes but remain unharmed. Still we do not think twice before killing a snake.
India is the homeland of more than 278 snakes, among which only 62 are venomous, 42 are mild venomous and 174 are non-venomous. Out of this 62 species of venomous snakes 20 are of the marine origin, so only 42 species are left to pose a threat to our life. Maximum of these 42 species have no chance of coming into direct conflict with us since they are inhabitants of dense forest. Only these four snakes – Common Krait (Bungarus caeruleus), Spectacle Cobra (Naja naja), Russell’s Viper (Daboia russelii), Monocled Cobra (Naja kaouthia) can be the cause of death or life risk since maximum time we do have chances of crossing their path. King Cobra (Ophiophagus hannah), Banded Krait (Bungarus fasciatus), Indian Saw-scaled Viper (Echis carinatus) have very negligible possibility of interacting with us since they are shy in nature and completely depend on forest life. Though maximum snakes found in Indian Subcontinent are harmless they are killed in a large number due to our poor knowledge, fear and misconception. So to protect the race we need to spread awareness among the people about the necessity of the snakes in our environment. In maximum campaigns or awareness programs the main stress is laid on the protection of venomous or poisonous snakes but we should be more careful about non-venomous snakes because they get killed because most of the time people fail to distinguish between the venomous snakes and non-venomous ones. Need more documentation on non-venomous snakes. Most of the time people fail to identify the non-venomous snakes. Such snakes are – Indian Rat Snake (Ptyas mucosa), Common Sand Boa (Eryx conicus), Common Wolf Snake (Lycodon aulicus), Olive Keelback Snake (Atretium schistosum), Common Smooth-scaled Water Snake (Enhydris enhydris), Ornate Flying Snake (Chrysopelea ornata), and Common Vine Snake (Ahaetulla nasutus), sometimes even Checkered Keelback Water Snake (Xenochrophis piscator) and Buff-striped Keelback Snake (Amphiesma stolatum) are killed only for leather to make wallet, belt and bags.
Sometimes Indian Rat Snake looks like female Spectacle Cobra in its pale morph. We can distinguish them by their thick dark stripes on both sides of the face and hood. It is aggressive in nature and long in size (8-10 feet) and also it enters houses for food. This species is completely dependents on rat, lizards and little birds. Indian Rat Snake has no venom or poison in its body but it killed by humans because of a misconception spread by some snake charmers and fake sadhus that it has poison on its tail which causes leprosy. Common Sand Boa is a little, sloth; shy and nocturnal snake that comes out from its underground nest only for food. This snake is also killed by us due to the lack of knowledge. Sometimes it is confused with the highly venomous Russell’s Viper and killed. Snake charmers also use this snake to showcase it as the baby of Indian Rock Python (Python molurus) which leads to the unfortunate death of this little harmless snake. Ornate Flying Snake has derived its name from its preying technique wherein it fixes its tail onto a branch of a tree and snatches its prey from another branch which somewhat resembles a flying gesture. It loses its life due a myth that it had killed Lokhindor the son of Chand Saudagar. More shocking and dangerous is the myth about Common Vine Snake – it can snatch people’s eye and attacks only on the eyes or face! For this reason many people kill this beautiful green snake. In West Bengal, the Common Wolf Snakes are confused with Common Krait due to its Bengali name chiti and is killed whenever it is spotted. Smooth-scaled Water Snake, Olive Keelback, Checkered Keelback, Buff-stripe Keelback are also killed brutally only due to fear and lack of awareness.
The entire incidents happen due to our misconception, lack of proper knowledge and influences by greedy snake charmers and some ‘ojhas’. Some greedy people also use this wild animal for their business. They kill snakes for leather, skeleton or venom. Some traditional medicine maker uses the venom and the bone and they spread the rumour that it can cure chronic diseases or it can cure infertility which is absolutely baseless. More ridiculously they sell the bone embedded in lockets and rings and promise common people that it will change their luck. To stop all this nonsense we have to overcome all the barrier before it is too late since the damaged made by us is a bi-product of our development and we have already destroyed the habitat and natural food of this reptilian race. Urbanization and rapid construction is the cause of their habitat loss, using fertilizers and modern pesticides is the cause of declination of their natural food source which has already affected their population. In maximum pond and riversides, fishers are using nylon fencing and it causes unnatural death of many aquatic snakes in rainy season. Though they are protected under Indian Wildlife Protection Act 1972, there are so many reports of illegal killing and capturing of this animal from different provinces of the country. Even I found at least 7/10 case of killing in every summer season which is very unfortunate. Awareness program and presentation in various sectors can give us better results rather than talking in social networking sites or internets. The awareness programs, road shows, exhibitions, short dramas etc can awaken many people and it can be started from basic schools by teachers, social workers, environment enthusiasts, naturalists even by block level offices. Our strong determination can only protect this beautiful family from greed.
Source: indiansnakes.org, Daniel, J.C. : The Book of Indian Reptiles and Amphibians. Whitaker Romulus & Captain Ashok : The Snakes Of India – The Field Guide