MUMBAI: Snake rescuer Somnath Mhatre’s name will go down in history books. Not for rescuing a prized cobra, but for dying of a bite from the reptile while kissing its head for a photo-op. Mhatre is the 31st snake rescuer to die in the last 12 years from the snakebite he suffered while performing the oft-repeated pecking stunt.
Activists are now calling on the Forest Department (FD) to issue guidelines to prevent such incidents and take action against those involved in performing and posting pictures of such stunts.
Snake turns, bites
Somnath, a resident of CBD Belapur in Navi Mumbai, died of the bite on February 2. A snake rescuer from the area said, “As per the information told to us by his friend, Somnath had gone to rescue a snake from a car at CBD Belapur, but after rescuing the cobra he took it to another location where he was trying to attempt the act of kissing the cobra on its head, when suddenly, the snake turned and bit Somnath on his chest.”
Before Somnath, another rescuer from Satara died after suffering a snake bite while he was trying to kiss a cobra. According to another snake rescuer, Somnath was hospitalised for five days at a hospital in Navi Mumbai. He’d rescued more than 100 venomous snakes in the past.
Slither to some action
Herpetologist and wildlife photographer Kedar Bhide has compiled the data on such deaths along with other experts. They are part of the voices of several conservationists who feel that FD should take some serious steps in order to avoid further incidents.
A meeting to this effect was last held on December 17, 2014 at Nagpur in the Principal Chief Conservator of Forest’s office, in which some mitigation measures to train snake rescuers and take action against illegal snake activities in the state were discussed.
Bhide and others working in the field of snake conservation feel that the need of the hour is to take collective actions to stop such deaths and illegal activities like snake shows. The researchers also feel that such incidences are harming snake conservation work as well as undermining the Wildlife Protection Act, by illegal handling and hoarding of snakes.
Focus on research
Bhide told mid-day, “In today’s world, our snake conservation efforts should move away from snake handling, snake shows and towards rescuing them to create a society of co-existence, reduction of snakebites and fatalities and more focus on researching about the species.”
Ganesh Mehendale, from Nisarga Giribhraman, a Roha-based NGO working in the field of snake conservation and rescue said, “It’s high time now that the forest department started taking serious action against those involved in performing these stunts using venomous and non-venomous snakes, because doing such things is against the law. There have been many instances where snake rescuers have lost their lives while rescuing the snakes and there needs to be a protocol to deal with the same.”