Disclaimer: Snake rescue is a dangerous operation and requires a trained professional. Without adequate training, no one should attempt to rescue and handle a snake. Any attempts to do so can result in death or disability. All snakes in India are protected under Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972.
The King Cobra (Ophiophagus hannah) is the flagship species of Agumbe, Karnataka. Adapted to high rainfall areas, the humid climate of the region helps them thrive. Calling it the “Kalinga”, the locals worship the snake.
In December of 2017, my classmates and I travelled to Agumbe. Nestled deep in the Western Ghats, this place receives close to the highest rainfall in the country. Some have christened it “The Cherrapunji of South India”.
We stayed at Kalinga Centre for Rainforest Ecology, a research station started by the conservationist P Gowri Shankar. It is located in dense rainforest. A walk around will reveal several critters, from vine snakes to cicadas.
On our first night, the station received a rescue call. A King Cobra strayed into a house 30 km away.
I couldn’t believe my luck! My first encounter with the Kalinga was going to be a rescue!
My classmates and I immediately piled into KCRE’s vans, and soon we were off. We drove with bated breath.
When we reached, a crowd had gathered around the house. This was not good. Too often, in rescuing trapped wildlife, the mob requires controlling, not the animal. Crowd hysteria agitates the animal, and chaos can ensue.
Rescuers at KCRE use a unique approach in capturing King Cobras, one that causes the least stress. They modify a snake bag by fixing its mouth to a large diameter pipe. Next, this bag is placed on the ground, giving it the appearance of a natural burrow. Lastly, the snake is guided to the and allowed to enter on its own.
Prashant Sir, Operations Manager at KCRE, instructed the observers to stand back as he entered the house.
Under the staircase, curled up among wooden planks, lay a 12-foot long male King Cobra. It had a glossy black coat streaked with yellow bands. Packing enough neurotoxic venom to kill an elephant, it is a formidable creature.
Prashant Sir extracted the snake from its hideout and grabbed the tail. Caught unawares, it tried to escape, circling the room and defecating in fright. It also raised its hood, trying to intimidate its captors.
With calm and concentration, Prashant sir handled the King. It was a delicate dance between man and beast, every move capable of dictating death.
It is always a delight to see a professional at work. They possess a certain grace, having honed their craft for many years. Akin to an artist painting, each action is like a brushstroke, performed with purpose.
Steadily, he coaxed the snake towards the pipe. The King probed around and, convinced it was a burrow, headed straight inside.
After its tail slipped in, he put the hook over the bag’s entrance, enclosing the snake. He then tied the bag off. The King squirmed inside, its outline visible through the cloth.
King cobras are territorial, and if released away from their home range, will be disoriented and soon die. Listed as ‘Vulnerable’ on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, every individual counts.
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The rescue team freed the snake in a nearby forest. It was a quick job, with no observers permitted during the release. The forest department was also informed, as the King Cobra is offered Schedule 2 protection under the Wild Life Protection Act 1972.
Climate change has the King Cobra flickering on the edge of extinction. It is organisations like KCRE that ensure its survival.
Such groups exist across the globe, fighting on the frontiers of conservation. They are the unsung heroes of our times.
A bystander managed to record the event on video. While it is shaky, one can see how the operation was conducted.
If you want to learn more about KCRE, you can find them at https://kalingacre.com. They host various workshops/volunteer ships and educational programs (online and in-person). I encourage you to contact them and visit their research station.
You can write to them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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