Snake bites expert handler at workshop

May 23, 2013, 00:43 IST | Ranjeet Jadhav

A demonstration at Haffkine Institute turned ugly when a venomous reptile bit the Nashik-based man; conservationists question the need of such practices, calling it a fad with very little educational value

Manish Godbole, a snake expert from Nashik, was recently bitten by a venomous snake at a snake-handling workshop in Haffkine Institute at Parel. Godbole, who claims to have rescued more than 4,000 snakes and assisted in over 950 snakebite cases, was immediately rushed to the KEM Hospital for treatment. However, concerns from all corners surfaced after the incident, with many questioning whether the institute was right in organising the snake-handling demonstration. Display of snakes has been banned under the Wildlife Protection Act 1972.

Risky business: Manish Godbole, a snake expert from Nashik was recently bitten by a snake at a snake-handling workshop and had to be admitted to KEM hospital

Speaking to MiD DAY, director of the institute Abhay Chowdhary said, “Display and demonstration of the snakes was not made in public but for the students. I don’t feel it is wrong. The person who was handling the reptile is a well-known expert and we had acquired all the necessary permissions for organising such an event.” About 11 students and some faculty members attended the workshop.

According to sources who were present at the workshop, a venomous snake bit Godbole during the demonstration, which was quickly put in a sack to prevent panic. Soon after the incident, Godbole was rushed to the BMC-run KEM Hospital. Sources said that Godbole could be saved only because a heavy dose of anti-venom was administered to him on time.

While the institute officials claim that they were not at fault for organising an event to educate the students, wildlife experts disagree. The Wildlife Protection Act prohibits the display of snakes or their captivity. “Handling snakes is illegal, unless you have a permit, or written permission from the chief wildlife warden.

Unfortunately, many young people think that handling snakes is a sign of their ‘macho’ status. While I do not know the details of the incident, I would still caution amateurs against conducting rescues or demonstrations,” said Bittu Sahgal, editor of a wildlife magazine.

Echoing similar sentiments, wildlife warden of Mumbai city Mayur Kamath said, “Now-a-days, rescuing snakes is becoming a trend, which I feel is wrong because it is not only risky for humans but can also cause trauma to the animal.” He suggested use of images and videos for educational purposes, instead of live snakes.  

Ten to 12 years ago, we used to hold such workshops but after conducting a survey few years ago we realised that slide shows or use of videos had potential in terms of educational value. A live snake show only entertains the public and it does not have any educational or conservational value for snakes.
- Kedar Bhide, founder and president of RRSC
(Reptile Rescue & Study Center)

Given all the restrictions, most snake rescuers who are well aware of these rules intentionally violate wildlife laws. If one wishes to spread awareness about snakes, they may do so with the help of images and there is a wealth of stunning images of snakes available with many experts and photographers. Apart from this, snakes are stressed when one handles them. They should not be handled unless it is absolutely necessary.
- Zeeshan Mirza, MSc student researching behaviour of snakes

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