Rescuing Reptiles in the Urban Wild
Urban expansions invade the natural habitat of many reptiles. Bangalore attempts to right the situation.
By Sujata Devadas, January 10, 2016
Will it bite?
I took a stroll one morning along the beach in Abu Dhabi. As I neared a lifeguard’s chair, four men stood together, arms crossed, staring down at the sand between them. A slender snake lay in the middle, its head slightly raised.
“Will it bite?” asked one, as he beckoned frantically to a friend swimming in the ocean to join him. As I watched, my mind backtracked to a TED talk by herpetologist Romulus Whittaker, who asked while concluding his speech: “What do you think the snake feels?”
Yes. Trapped in the middle, with four humans barring its escape, I felt sorry for the snake.
A short while later, an email caught my attention. A Bangalore resident wrote to her neighbour: “Please don’t kill the snake found in your garden. There is a helpline. Call it. A wildlife rescuer will take the snake away to ensure the safety of both humans and the animal. Let it live.”
The BBMP, the city municipal council for Bangalore, has a Forest Cell that connects with a team of 35 rescuers around the city, to save wildlife in jeopardy. They assist in the resolution of all human-animal conflicts.
The helpline number: 9880108801 / 9742084335
The Forest Cell responds to around 30 calls a day. We are informed by Into the Wild (ITW), the community organization in the city that sixty per cent could be false calls, but the rest involve bird rescues, and the rescue of mammals and reptiles — the last being the highest in frequency.
Instead of killing the snake in the garden or locality, call this number to alert a wildlife rescuer who will provide responsible intervention and ensure the safety of both humans and animals in the conflict. ITW chief field biologist and herpetologist Sanjeev Pednekar, is a licensed rescuer on the BBMP Forest Cell team. Four incidents that involved BBMP’s intervention recently emphasise the need to re-think human-centered development.
Smuggled by the hundreds
Recently 73 Indian spotted pond turtles (Geoclemys hamiltonii) were rescued from Bangalore International Airport. Their habitat is northern India. An endangered variety, they are smuggled by the hundreds.
Airport customs personnel called the helpline when they were alerted to the presence of 73 such turtles, wrapped in cellophane tape, stuffed into 3 ordinary rectangular suitcases. Bangalore’s airport is often used for the illegal trade and transport of exotic wildlife.The final destination of these Indian spotted pond turtles was Thailand.
From a team of 35 wildlife rescuers helping BBMP, this particular rescue was attended to by Sanjeev Pednekar, Sharath Babu, Arun and Sphurthi.
As part of his regular routine, a resident was inspecting a sump on Bannerghatta Road. He flinched in surprise when he spotted a snake, and reacting instinctively, dropped the lid of the sump, jamming the reptile. He called the police at once. They, in turn, asked BBMP. Sanjeev Pednekar arrived within minutes.
He freed the trapped and injured common Indian krait (‘KatTu havu’ in Kannada), rushing it to Saleem Hameed, one of Bangalore’s best rehabilitators. Fortunately, Hameed was able to nurse the snake back to health. After waiting patiently for the snake to shed its skin, it was released in the vicinity from where it had been rescued.
Bangalore is ever-expanding. Constructions rise up in what was earlier agricultural or forest land. The extension of urban life results in the invasion of natural heritage with impunity. Conflict brews between humans and animals. Almost always, wildlife loses — its dwelling, and often its life too. Aware of the desperate need to save wildlife from extermination, enthusiasts commit themselves to the cause along with a group of government-authorized volunteers.
Reptiles, particularly snakes, are inevitably demonized in literature. So for most humans, protection means, “kill it”. All snakes are not venomous. All encounters with venomous snakes are also not harmful to humans. But snakes get killed at nearly every encounter with a human. Killing a snake is against the Indian Wildlife Act — an offense punishable with imprisonment. So is unauthorised capture and possession.
ITW's Sanjeev Pednekar has been on the helpline team for 8 years now, and has given more than 150 talks to raise awareness, speaking to students, farmers, construction workers, outdoor educators and the visually impaired. He is consulted often on high profile cases of illegal trade. He continuously searches for solutions to mitigate the ever-intensifying incidences of human-animal conflict.
To highlight another instance: prior to the laying of the foundation for his new home in Vijayanagar, a resident was clearing his acquired plot of land. As he walked through the clearing, he found a clutch of eggs.
Sanjeev Pednekar was informed. He collected the eggs and took them home. He incubated them using a low cost, peer reviewed method. Sixty-three days later, to his delight, stunning baby cobras gently emerged from the shells — taking their first breath in a world where their own survival was a HUGE question mark. These hatchlings were later released.
Rescued from medical waste
Acting on a tip-off, in yet another rescue, Sanjeev and his Forest Cell team found four speckled cobras trapped inside a well that was filled with medical waste in the vicinity of a leprosy hospital on Magadi Road, Vijayanagar. Sanjeev was lowered into the cell to capture the snakes unharmed and release them into safer surroundings.
ITW is in collaboration with the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust (MCBT) to develop and test educational materials for snakebite awareness and first aid in India. ITW’s mission is to enhance environmental literacy, driving citizens to re-think human-centered development that occurs at the cost of environmental heritage. ITW conducts habitat monitoring and facilitates curriculum-based outdoor learning, offering naturalist training programmes grounded in wildlife and ecology. It works towards real and applicable solutions to ease human-animal conflict, supporting local biodiversity and habitats.
We need to know
Be an Eco-Warrior
Interested in wildlife rescue? Many options exist — from joining the Forest Department to becoming a researcher and everything in between.
Into the Wild (ITW) in Bangalore extends an open invitation if you would like to commit to wildlife preservation and ecology, developing a strong foundation in fieldwork, which is an integral aspect of this role and its responsibilities.
Contact Into the Wild
Phone: +91 97 39 46 1638
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