The Reptile Rescue Squad
by Aditi Baindur
The phone rang. “Dad”, I said, “It’s Singhal Uncle and he wants to speak to you urgently.” Dad was conversing with my aunt’s family who had come for dinner.
“Hi, what’s up?… Uh huh… uh huh. don’t worry, we’ll come right away.”
Apologising to my Bua, Dad told her that a friend had a snake in his drawing-room that needed rescuing. Eagerly, I asked whether I could come along. After some thought Dad said, “Yes, you can be my assistant but you have to do exactly as I say!”
Picking up a snake-stick, butterfly net and the book on Indian Snakes, we got into the car and reached the Singhal’s home – a low-slung bungalow opposite the Golf Course.
Singhal Uncle said that since he did not want to kill it, he had called us. We went inside and heard the snake hissing from behind the TV. The snake was quite infuriated at being disturbed. Carefully we moved the furniture to get a good look. The snake was thick, stocky, and curled up. It had a triangular head held back in a S-shaped coil, ready to strike. It had large oval markings on its back – all distinctive characteristics of Russel’s Viper (scientific name – Daboia russelii).
Russel’s Viper is the largest Indian viper which is named after Patrick Russell (1726-1805), a Scottish surgeon and naturalist who came out to India and was the first person to study the snakes. Russel is called the “Father of Indian Ophiology” (ophiology=study of snakes).
Russel’s Viper is dangerous – it is one of the Big Four venomous snakes of India, the others being the Cobra, Krait and Saw-scaled Viper. Russel’s vipers are common in CME, this was to be the first of four that we were to encounter last season. To the best of knowledge, in more than ten years, no venomous snake bite has been recorded in CME despite a large population of Big Four snakes.
Russel’s Vipers are deadly and evil-looking but are by nature docile and only bite if provoked or threatened. The Haffkinne antivenom, available in MI Room, can be used to treat bites by any of the Big Four snakes. So while there is no need for any of us to worry, all of us need to be alert and careful in grass, gardens or the countryside.
Dad said, Russel’s Viper bite, is like having a live coal placed on the body. Sometimes, even if life were saved by treatment with antivenom, a bite can leave a person permanently disabled with amputated limbs or damaged internal organs. So Dad believes that we should never take silly risks handling snakes. Dad’s credo is simple – we are here to rescue the snake and it has to be done without endangering either humans or snakes.
The drawing room was crowded with furniture all of which could not be removed, and it seemed that Dad would need to handle the snake after all. However, he had other plans. He lifted the snake high with his snake-stick and plopped it into the butterfly net where the snake hung immobilised. Dad then carried it across the road and released it into the jungle by cutting the butterfly netting above the snake. The snake fell down and immediately disappeared into the jungle.
It was a perfect rescue – no human came within three feet of the snake and it was harmlessly captured and released into the wild in less than five minutes. We thanked Singhal Uncle for not killing the snake and giving us a chance to rescue it.
Note: Since then, we have had one bite on our campus of a Russell’s Viper – probably the first venomous bite in five years or so.