This snake helpline helps humans and snakes alike

November 10th, 2009 - 2:40 pm ICT by IANS  

By Byomakesh Biswal
Ganjam (Orissa), Nov 10 (IANS) The trick in catching poisonous snakes with bare hands lies not in the technique but in the attitude and belief that these reptiles are “not our enemies”, as the three men who run a free snake helpline in Orissa’s Ganjam district will tell you.

The helpline was started in 1999 by Surendra Behera, a daily wage labourer.

Moved by the number of deaths due to snake bites in the Polasara area of Ganjam district, Behera started the helpline to provide help in removing snakes from people’s homes and ensuring that victims of snake bites were given timely medical help. They also ensure that the snakes are later released into the wild.

“Many people die of snake bites every year in this area. The mortalities happen in the absence of timely medical treatment as the hospitals are far off. So I help them in dealing with snake bites before they are taken to hospital,” Behera told IANS.

It was while working as a labourer in Maharashtra that Behara learnt how to catch snakes.

Behera holds that though some snakes are poisonous, they are not necessarily a danger for human beings, and accidents occur when they stray into human habitation.

“People consider snakes as their enemies. But remember snakes usually bite only in self-defence. Snakes come near human habitation in search of food and accidents happen at that time. We try to ensure that the snakes return to the wilderness, thus minimizing snake bite-related mortalities,” he added.

As Behera began getting more calls from people requesting him to catch snakes that had strayed into their neighbourhood and homes, he asked two other people to join him in running the helpline.

Behera started training Madhab Nayak and Arun Sethi in snake catching with non-poisonous snakes.

According to the trio, you can’t be too careful while dealing with poisonous snakes and therefore they take all necessary precautions.

“Accidents are likely to happen when you are dealing with poisonous snakes. Before going to catch a snake we consume some herbs like ‘patalgaruda’ and ‘krishnakedar’ to negate the impact of snake venom,” said Nayak, who also runs a fast food joint.

The helpline has become popular in the area and though initially people informed them in person, they have now circulated their cell phone numbers among residents.

“We used to get five-six calls a month. People used to come to us in person seeking help in getting rid of poisonous snakes from their homes. But after we started carrying mobile phones we attend to about 20-25 calls every month. It also helps us in coordinating among ourselves,” said Sethi, who runs a laundry.

The trio claims to have caught more than 2,000 snakes till now. They do not charge for their services.

(Byomakesh Biswal can be contacted at byomakesh.b@ians.in)

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