Snake rescuers remain uncrowned Covid warriors

Environmental team rescues snake from Army Hospital’s Covid patients’ ward in Lucknow during lockdown, reports KULSUM MUSTAFA

During the dark, fearful days of India’s first Covid-19 Lockdown they proved to be the uncrowned corona warriors. At a time when people were not stepping out of their homes and staying indoor to avoid the virus infection, there was this group of young warriors who were fulfilling their duty, both towards the environment as well as Humanity. The thirteen-member Paryavaran Society, a Lucknow-based NGO, continued to attend SOS calls of panic-stricken masses. It was during this period that the team undertook their most difficult and risky mission to date — that of rescuing a snake from the Covid Positive ward of the Army hospital in Lucknow.
The founder of this six-year-old group, 34-year-old, Aditya Tewari, is a Photographer and events organizer by profession and a rescuer by passion. His team constitutes 13 members, fifty percent girls. The youngest member of the group is 18 years old Prachi. Volunteers all charge no money for this service, animal lovers the team is zealous about preserving the ecosystem and serving humanity.
The group has in the past few years ‘rescued’ and sent back to the jungles many snakes not just in Lucknow but also in the other nearby districts of Uttar Pradesh. Spreading awareness about reptiles and the message that they are not enemies of Mankind unless they are cornered is the group’s main task. Their team has done many awareness campaigns in Lucknow and other cities like Rai Bareilly, Dalmau, Sitapur etc.
Talking to Tewari is like opening Pandora’s box, he has hundreds of hair-raising stories to tell of rescue operations, but confesses that there is nothing to beat the mission he undertook in a Covid positive hospital ward in India’s first lockdown. Initially, the call seemed like any normal call. But it was only when he finally reached the hospital gate and met the medical staff he broke into a cold sweat. It was not the fear of the snake, but the fear of contracting the deadly Coronavirus.
What further compounded matters were wearing the PPE kit which was a must as it was the sole protective gear from the virus. To compound matter, Tewari realized that the kit was meant for a 5-5 feet person, and for a 6 ft man like him getting into it meant that he had to compress his body by five full inches. Not a very comfortable situation. But there was no option. To a thumping heart and prayers, Tewari searched the entire ward but found no snake. It was labor not wasted as the search did bring relief to the patients and medical staff on duty.
A few days later, he got a call from the hospital again. This time Tewari was more composed and there was less fear. Within minutes of his reaching the place, he located the reptile- was a rat snake and was hiding behind a drum in the store. Tewari rescued it, and after talking to the authority released it in a jungle nearby.
In his experience so far Tewari says that for him this rescue operation remains most special and he felt like a real warrior as he came out of the hospital. “I had not only helped people in distress I was happy I could help the helpless Covid positive patients already under so much stress,” said Tewari sharing pictures from the rescue operation.
Talking about his Society, he said that it is a volunteering organization that works with Forest and Zoo departments. He said every year their team rescues approx 200-250 animals, mostly snakes, which are then released to safe places. In Lucknow, our team is working in accordance with Avadh Forest Department and the Lucknow zoo.
“We have just one mission- to rescue humans from any harm and at the same time ensure that the animals are not hurt,” said Tewari, adding that out of all the rescue operations maximum public fear is of snakes. He said that the chief work of his team is to give the right information about snakes and create awareness about them in the common man. He informed that there are over 350 species of snakes found in India but about 70 per cent are non-venomous.
“From what we have been told about snakes since ages, it’s natural for humans to get frightened when they see snakes. These stories are generally fictitious and create phobia in human minds about these creepy, but chiefly harmless creatures, said Tewari, There are many tales woven around snakes and Bollywood encashes on these, making our fears about snakes profound. Like for instance, it is said that a snake takes revenge if you harm it or its partner, the snake’s mind captures a picture and continues to chase and harm anyone who harmed him.
“This is absolutely untrue and only done to mystify these creatures. They do not have a complex brain or memory. The truth is that the brain of a snake can’t process such complex tasks. A snake is only focused on its food, its routes, its prey, and its partner at the time of mating. Besides these, it can’t memories the person who harmed it,” explained Tewari
“There is also a common misnomer that snakes drink milk. The scientific answer for this is that snakes fall under the category of reptiles. In reptiles, mammary glands are absent, so they are not capable of producing milk and they also don’t have the organs that can help them in digesting milk,” he said.

According to Tewari it the smart snake charmers who mislead the innocent public and even show them snakes drinking milk. This, he said is because Snake charmers capture snakes and do not give them food and water for days, so when a bowl full of milk is kept in front of the thirsty snake, it gets confused and thinking it is water drinks it. But as snakes cannot digest the milk, this harms them and leads to infection and causes death of the snake. Tewari claims that snakes held by snake charmer live only for 2-3 weeks only.
People get panic-stricken when they see a snake and in case it bites them they presume it is a venomous bite and generally run to get a snake charmer. But this according to Tewari is not the right thing to do. He advises that the most important thing to do when a snake enters your house or you see one in your surrounding is to remain calm and not create panic. One should call the Forest Department or emergency number 112. A rescue team will reach and will safely rescue the snake and release it in a less populated area, away from humans.
Meanwhile, till the rescue team arrives one should watch the snake’s movement from an appropriate distance, say around eight to 10 feet and see where it is going. Generally, snakes go away themselves. For identification, one can take pictures or make a video from distance and consult an expert for information. This way one can easily know if the snake is venomous or non-venomous.
Snakes can enter homes through doors, windows, and ditches. If your area has a lot of greenery and there are chances of snakes being there in the vicinity you have to ensure that there are no entry points like small holes, space under doors. Make your house safe by blocking the entrances through which the snake can enter.
But if despite all this a snake enters any of your rooms, then the only thing you have to do is watch it. People often get too scared, Then you can seal pack the room so that the snake doesn’t escape. Try to capture a picture or a video so that identification becomes easy.
Tewari advises never to attempt to hit the snake as it will get defensive and can attack. He suggests that by spreading awareness about snakes his team is able to save so many of these reptiles and also save people from an unnecessary tussle with these reptiles.

Venomous species of snakes include:
Indian Cobra
Russell’s Viper
Saw Scaled Viper
These four together are termed as the *Big four* and are responsible for most of the snake bites.

Non-venomous species include:
Indian Rock Python
Rat Snake (Dhamin),
Red Sand Boa,
Common Sand Boa
Checkered KeelBack
Buff Striped KeelBack
Common Wolf Snake,
Barred Wolf Snake
Worm Snake