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Forest Dept to get tough with amateur snake rescuers

Inexperienced snake handlers who have been rescuing the reptiles without a legal permit will soon come under the Forest Department scanner. The department has received numerous complaints from animal rights groups urging action against unprofessional rescuers who end up as snake hoarders, leaving many snakes in unnatural environments.


For the love of wild life: Sunish Subramaniun, an I-card-holding snake rescuer, with a rat snake rescued by him

The department is in the process of re-enlisting rescuers in the city, Nagpur, Thane, Yavatmal and other major cities in the journals that hold information on them. Identity cards will also be re-issued to the rescuers after a scrutiny of their background as snake rescuers. 

As March, April and May are the mating months for snakes, they surface in large numbers during this period, coming out of their holes and often venturing into human territory. As a result, handlers without proper equipment or knowledge rescue snakes and leave them in areas which are not their habitat.

Such snake rescuers have also been found to conduct snake shows and even house the snakes, which is prohibited under wildlife rules. Divisional Forest Officer, Pune S B Fule, agreed the problem of unauthorised snake rescuers existed and that many of them were even trying to cross over to the legal side.

“Even though only people listed in the schedule are allowed to catch snakes, lots of others do it without permission,” Fule said. “There are about 150 individuals from Pune who have been issued ID cards, and we have been receiving lots of requests from random people who want to become snake rescuers.”

If cases of unauthorised possession of snakes are found, the Forest Department can take action against violators under Sections 11 (B) and 39 (3) of the Wildlife Protection Act (WPA) as, according to the law, snakes are protected under the WPA.

The law says any person in possession of any wild animal must be authorised by the Forest Department to possess it and recognition by the CZA is required in order to exhibit that animal or to house it.

The issue has come to the fore again after the death of a 21-year-old agriculture student, Riddhi Thakur from Thane, who got bitten by a cobra while visiting a snake rescuer’s home.

Last week, the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations (FIAPO) had demanded from the CCF the setting up of required protocols for handling wild animals and their safe rehabilitation in the wild to prevent inexperienced and untrained handlers from becoming hoarders.

“Rescuing a snake has, unfortunately, become a stunt and we have evidence showing unprofessional rescuers doing bizarre acts to impress the public, like kissing a cobra or climbing a tree to rescue a viper.

The Forest Department has been ignoring these acts,” Sunish Subramaniun, a snake rescuer with an identity card, said. He said it was essential to first identify the snake before leaving it in a territory where it will get food.

“Ratsnakes should be left in hilly areas or mangroves, whereas cobras, Russel’s vipers and pythons should be left in national parks,” he said. Chief Conservator of Forest, Yavatmal, D K Tyagi said the Forest Department can take action if violations are brought to its notice. “The department has formed a committee at the district level which looks into this. We’ll take action once we are notified of any violation,” Tyagi said. 

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