‘Swimming’ snakes

The forest department releases a list of snake-rescue volunteers particularly for this monsoon and residents seem to be making good use of the resource

Residents may report snakes that “swim around” in the flood waters, placing a panic-stricken call to the forest department. In truth, these snakes would be “floating around helplessly” and not luxuriating in a swimming session, as perceived by the fear-struck. Except for those designed to thrive in the waters — a striking example in our parts being the checkered keelback (Fowlea piscator)— snakes mix as well with water as oil does.

Fearing for their own safety, a good number of residents from various parts of Chennai have been calling the forest department or the volunteers it has enlisted for snake rescues the past few days to rescue the reptiles they found in stagnant rain water in their backyard. This initiative seems particularly geared to the monsoon, when waterlogging may cause snakes to leave their moorings and float closer to human presence.

K Dhanasekaran, forest range officer, headquarters range, wildlife division, Chennai, rattles off figures pertaining to snakes rescued based on residents’ calls over the last three days — the day of the depression, and the next two days when life was easing back into normality.

“On November 11, twenty-two snakes were rescued; on November 12, fifty snakes; and on November 13, twenty-two snakes. Out of the 50 rescued on November 12, there were rat snake (10); cobra (15); common sand boa (2); checkered keelback (16); bronze backed tree snake (3); and common wolf snake (4). Of the 22 snakes rescued on November 13, there were cobra (8); rat snake (7); common krait (2); checkered keelback (4); and common sand boa (1),” shares Dhanasekaran.

The forest official notes that the rescued snakes are released in the Chengalpet RF, Thiruporur RF, Mambakkam RF, Acharapokkam RF. “The volunteers who are working with the department in these rescues hand over the snakes at the office of the wildlife headquarters range in Velachery,” he adds.

The forest range office observes that the checkered keelback is at home in the waters, yet snake rescuers have had to rescue them and have them released in the reserve forests, because for a majority of residents, any snake is cause for alarm.

“Mostly, people inform rescuers about these snakes because they fear for their own safety and not the snake’s. Only 10 p.c. of the people make the call purely out of concern for the snake’s safety. Their fear is understandable — if they get bitten by a snake, particularly during a storm, heading to a hospital for treatment can be a challenge,” remarks animal rescuer Shravan Krishnan, one of those volunteering with the forest department in this initiative. “We hand over every rescued snake to the forest department or release it wherever they want us to release it.” The forest official notes, “When the volunteer releases a rescued snake in any of the designated reserve forests, they send us a photo of the snake being released there.”

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