Friday, January 18, 2013

Rescue that Snake!

Rescuing snakes (from dangerous humans) is something that one does whenever the opportunity presents itself. One morning, I got a call saying there was a malaipambu (python) trapped in an agricultural well not far from where we live. The call came while I was out shopping, so I rushed home, handed over the groceries, picked up my snake stick and prepared to head out to the coconut grove where the well was. My son John Rommel and his friend Dinu both tagged along, and that was our team.

Along the way, my autodriver spread the word (as had the farmer), so when we got there, there were about 30 onlookers. I had my doubts about this operation because it was a well, and our Indian wells are rather rough things with typically precarious means of access. This well proved to be no exception, about 60 feet across and sporting a rugged and steep descent cut into two adjacent walls, with the water about 50 feet down.

Anyhow, we slowly worked our way down and soon saw that the supposed malaipambu was actually a large 6 foot (venomous) Russel's viper. The farmer had wanted to clean the well (it was a mess) and that's when the snake was spotted and misidentified, but luckily none of his workers were willing to face even a smallish nonpoisonous python, so we had been called in.

Now, ordinarily the Russel's is a dangerous snake to tackle and big ones even more so. They have powerful thick bodies, and can launch a strike to about 3/4 of their lengths and generally strike upwards, so people often get bitten at or above knee height. The Russel's is also known to strike with little or no provocation, in common with the saw scaled viper (and most unlike the other two of the 'big 4' the krait and the cobra). Now, while there is excellent antivenin available to deal with the bites of India's big 4 (see my post on this), A Russel's bite also causes extensive local tissue damage and awful ulceration, so surviving the bite is only one part of one's recovery!

We were very handicapped by the tight constraints of the 'steps' and by the fact that we could only just barely reach the water about 4 feet down from the final step. To our advantage was the fact that the snake was in water, cooled down, and therefore a bit more lethargic than otherwise.

S/He was swimming around the edges of the well trying to find some way out. Soon after we got down, s/he came round and I tried to get him on my stick but this proved impossible. There was a heavy rope lying at our feet, so my next attempt was with a loop of this rope let into the water.

I managed to get him about half way along his body with the loose noose, but when he was just below us he slipped back down.

After a few minutes he came back round and this time, using my snake stick, I guided him into the noose and then supported his back end with the stick. Rommel was ready with a heavy sack and into this we gently let him down. The top of the sack was tied and we triumphantly ascended with our beautiful Russel's viper.

We got home with our in-sack snake, only to find everyone in a bit of an uproar. We had guests at home (the Bonneys, all the way from Australia) Aruna's aunt and uncle, and they were all in a bit of shock, so the snake was photographed 'in-sack' and then left safely out of sight as we tried to contact the forest department to arrange for them to pick up our prize. That night the forest department staff came and picked him/her up and that was a successful rescue!

Learn to identify India's venomous snakes

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