If you find a wild animal in your area, what will you do? Contact the forest department to have the creature relocated? As it turns out, this may be the wrong decision.
Shardul Waranje, a soft drink supplier in Panvel, caught a Black-headed Royal Snake on November 29 from a residential colony in Nerul. The reptile is only found in Rajasthan, northern Gujarat and some parts of Punjab.
For 20 days, he chased officials from the Forest Department to help him relocate the snake.
"I contacted the Panvel Forest Office, asking them to relocate the snake to Rajasthan. But, to my surprise, the Range Forest Officer AR Ubale asked me to release the snake in a local forest. I even offered to take the snake to Rajasthan, if they gave me the legal documents required. But Ubale refused," said Waranje. Ubale reportedly took custody of the snake on December 19.
Ubale promised Waranje that the snake would be moved to either Katraj Snake Park in Pune or Borivli National Park for a medical check up, before relocation. However, when Sunday MiD DAY contacted officials from the two parks, they denied having received any such snake. According to Waranje, "I have asked Ubale about the snake, but he does not reveal anything. I suspect something wrong has happened to it."
Wildlife conservationists claim that releasing snakes uncommon to a habitat can be harmful, both to the ecology and the snake concerned. "Releasing a Black-headed Royal Snake in a local forest can prove fatal for the snake, because of the different climate conditions and the forest's ecology can also be harmed," said Neelim Kumar Khaire, a herpetologist and director of Katraj Snake Park.
Adding that the snake must have been smuggled into Maharashtra, Khair added, "The forest department should support snake rescuers. The lethargic attitude will only hamper the conservation cause."
When contacted, Ubale refused to comment, and asked this reporter to contact the Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) Anwar Ahmed, DFO (Alibaug), who claimed ignorance. "I will inquire. If the snake was found in Panvel, there should not be any problem in releasing it in a local forest," he said. The Assistant Conservator of Forest (Panvel) Ashok Waghay also claimed ignorance, stating that the reptile has probably been released in the Karnala Bird Sanctuary.