By Kulsum Mustafa
Thirty five-year-old Aditya Tewari is a photographer cum events manager by profession. By passion animal rescuer. Through his NGO- Paryavaran (Environmental) Society, he and his team of volunteers attend SOS calls to save humans from harm from animals, reptiles.
Based out of Lucknow, Aditya with his squad comprising 12 youngsters, 50 percent of them are females, work with AvadhForest Department and Lucknow Zoo. They rescue approximately 300 snakes per year and as per their mission they release them into the jungles, the safe and natural habitat for the reptiles.
Q: Tell our readers about how you got interested in this rescue operation.
A: Right from my childhood. I was highly fascinated by the snake charmer show when he visited our locality. We children watched with bathed breath when the snake charmer started unveiling the cloth which covered his flat cane baskets, balanced on his shoulder with help of a wooden pole. The sight of the snake uncoiling itself and start dancing to the rhythm of the flute being played by his Master was extremely exciting. The elders and children all made a circle around the snake charmer and we all enjoyed the performance of the snake on the dictate of the charmer thoroughly. At the end we all threw some coins in front of the came basket.
Q: Besides your childhood memories was there anything else that motivated you to become a rescuer.
A: Yes as I grew up the fascination lead me to watch the wild animal series of National Geographic. It was through these segments that a lot of myths were shattered about the snake but the fascination remained. I realized that while they could harm humans they needed to be sent back to their safe and secure terrain-the forests. That is when I turned into a rescuer in the true sense.
Q: I understand that your team works as volunteers and that there are no payments involved.
A: True, we work with passion Our group is driven by passion and zeal to preserve the ecosystem. We do not charge, at the most we are paid a little travel allowance. But our true payment is the joy and thrill. We are treated like heroes when we are able to trace a snake and this thrill cannot be described in words or purchased by money.
Q: In these six years, which has been your most exciting mission.
A: The one I undertook during the first-ever Lockdown in India in April 2020. It was when I got a ‘snake here’ call from the Covid positive patients’ ward of Lucknow’s Army hospital.
Q: Really, a snake in the hospital ward?
A: Yes true, I even shudder now as I recall that visit. It was a total Lockdown in the city. It was the time when even the thought of going near a Covid patient was unthinkable and here I had to go inside the ward which had covid positive patients and a snake.
To top it once I reached the hospital I had to don a PPE kit –the size of which was 5.5 ft and I am 6 ft. I had to squeeze into the plastic gear with great discomfort.
Q: Did you find the snake. ?
A: No, not the first time. But again when the call came a few days later I went and found the snake hiding behind a drum in the hospital store. The relief and appreciation I received that day still make me feel proud. I had helped remove fear from the hearts of both the patients and medical staff. After consultation with the army personnel present there I released the reptile in a nearby jungle- the rightful place for it.
Q: Tell us about the myths associated with snakes.
A: There are many. In fact the main mission as a rescuer is to spread awareness about snakes in the public and shatter the myths which surround this most feared reptile.
*There is a misconception that snakes have a picture sharp memory and recognize and take revenge from anyone who harms them or their mate.
This is absolutely a myth and one propagated chiefly in drama series and glamorized by Bollywood scriptwriters.
The truth is that the brain of a snake can’t process such complex tasks. A snake is only focused on its food, its routes, its prey, and its partner at the time of mating. Besides these, it can’t memories the person who harmed it.
*Another myth is that snakes drink milk.
Untrue. Snakes cannot drink milk as they are reptiles and do not have organs to digest milk. If the snake is very thirsty it may drink a few drops of milk but milk harms him and eventually lead leads to his death.
*All snake bites lead to death.
Totally untrue. There are over 350 species of snakes found in India majority but the majority of the approximately 70 percent are non-venomous.
Q: Which are some of the non-venomous snakes?
A: *Indian Rock Python, *Rat Snake (Dhamin) , *Red Sand Boa, *Common Sand Boa, *Checkered KeelBack, *Buff Striped KeelBack , *Common Wolf Snake, *Barred Wolf Snake, *Worm Snake. All these snakes cause no harm to humans.
Q: And venomous species?
A: Indian Cobra, Krait, Russell’s Viper, and Saw Scaled Viper. These four together are termed as the *Big four* and are behind most of the snake bite cases are of them especially in Lucknow and nearby districts.
Q: What should one do when a snake enters our house or we find one in our immediate surroundings.
A: The first thing is to remain calm. Remember it has not come with the intention to bite or harm you but there is a likelihood that he is looking for food and shelter in your house
Immediately call the emergency number 112 and watch the snake’s movement from a distance till help arrives. You can if possible take a picture or make a video from a distance of around 10 feet. This will help the experts to arrive at the species name. On getting the notice, they will send a team that will safely rescue the snake and releases it in a less populated area, away from humans.
One should also keep an eye on the snake in case it is at a place from where it can go by itself
Q: What preventions should you take that snakes do not enter your house
A: If you live in a green neighborhood and there are chances of a snake entering your house the first step is to ensure that there are no small holes, cracks, or space in your doors. Get all these plugged, including the manholes.
The second most important thing is to maintain cleanliness both inside and outside your house. Especially ensure that your house is mice and roach free. Rat snakes come looking for easy food by the smell of rat droppings.
Remember that snakes are not social animals and prefer to coil up in dark, cool corners, their main concern is their food, easy route to food, and mating with their partner. Humans do not come to their priority list unless one disturbs them unnecessarily when they are preoccupied with either of the three engagements. So help keep the balance in the ecosystem by following the simple dictate of “Live and let live.”