Wildlife & Biodiversity

World Snake Day: Snake bites on the rise in Bhitarkanika

At least eight people have succumbed to snake bites in the monsoon season near Bhitarkanika National Park so far

 
By Ashis Senapati
Published: Friday 16 July 2021
Suvendu Mallick Snake Help Line trains forest officials in Bhitarkanika to handle snakes. Photo: Ashis Senapati

The villages around Odisha’s Bhitarkanika National Park, the country’s second-largest mangrove forests, are increasingly reporting cases of snake bites during this monsoon season: At least eight people have succumbed to snake bites so far.

Ashok Das (26) of Sanaora village was bitten by a snake June 28, 2021 while he was sleeping in his house. He was shifted to the Community Health Center (CHC) at Rajnagar, but later died.

Villagers in Mahakalapada and Rajnagar blocks of Kendrapada district near the national park often succumb to snake bites during the monsoon season. 

“Each year on July 16, the World Snake Day, we organise awareness camps on how to save people from snake bites and to protect reptiles. But the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) forced us to cancel our awareness meetings this time,” said Hemant Rout, secretary of Gahiramatha Marine Turtle and Mangrove Conservation Society (GMTMCS), Bhitarkanika.

Snakes in the Bhitarkanika include the poisonous king cobra, banded krait, common krait bamboo snake and blue krait. Among non-poisonous snakes are the Indian Rock python, rat snake, the water snake, common worm snake, blind snake, red sand boa snake, black earth boa, common green whip snake, vine snake, painted bronze, common Indian bronze-back and tree snake.

Farmers are also prone to snake bites, said JD Pati, divisional forest officer (DFO), Bhitarkanika National Park.

“The snakes crawl into homes in the rainy season as the monsoon is the breeding season for the reptiles. The number of snakes appearing in human habitatations increases during the nesting season,” the forest officer said.

He added that snakes are not our enemies: “Reptiles attack humans when they disturb them. Snakes guard the eggs near the nests. Snakes kill rats as a result the reptiles help farmers. Killing snakes disturbs the balance of the nature’s food chain will be affected.”

Forest department often organises capacity-building training of frontline staff on rescue as well as handling and release of snakes, Pati said.

“During the one-day long training a few days ago, I informed the villagers about forest and wildlife laws, aspects of snake-catching and handling along with what to do in case of snake bites. All snakes are not venomous,” said Suvendu Mallick, general secretary, Odisha  Snake Helpline. 

King cobra and other poisonous snakes, he said, are powerful and need to be held using a hook or a tong, but never caught by the neck. 

Mallick also taught staff members ways to handle various snakes like non-venomous python, rat snake, as well as venomous snakes like the cobra, king cobra and krait.

“We learnt the technique of capturing snakes without hurting them and also to give first-aid to patients bitten by reptiles,” said Kapil Das, a forester of Bhitarkanika.

 Pradip Das, a social workerin  Dangamala village near Bhitarkanika said the healthcare system  in remote coastal  pockets has a shortage of medical personnel, and has poor transport facilities and infrastructural inadequacies.  

When contacted M Beg, additional district medical officer, Kendrapara, said: “We stocked sufficient anti-venom medicines in hospitals to treat the patients. We have advised villagers not to approach any quacks for treatment”.

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