Performing stunts like kissing venomous snakes, particularly cobras is considered extremely courageous by the snake handling community. Despite these stunts that can lead to death, many try to showcase this as a sign of their power.
In the seventies and eighties, when people like Romulus Whitaker, Neelimkumar Khaire and others started working on the conservation of snakes there was a need to glamorise this field to help people overcome their deep rooted fear and superstitions. Stunts like, ‘72 hours with venomous snakes’ or other live snake shows were shows meant to uproot that phobia. Social Media was non-existent during those days, so we didn’t see the dark side of these activities most of which were done by people with a genuine interest in snakes.
The recent cases of Sarp Mitra (snake rescuers) or ‘snake friends’ from Panvel and Badlapur who’ve have been bitten on their upper lip while doing stunts or while on a ‘rescue’ as claimed by them are results of misplaced heroism and wrong guidance. I admit that many seniors involved in the field of herpatology including me are to be blamed for this. We have been wrong in our communications. Maybe we simply never took a stand against such stunts earlier.
Infact, my concern and worry only increases each time I hear about such incidents. I have a list of 29 snake friends just from Western Maharashtra who have died from snakebites though we don’t know if those were accidents, mistakes or simply carelessness.
It’s high time snake handling and other stunts be completely stubbed, else the snake – rescuing community will be split into two — one genuinely working for the welfare of snakes and other using the mask of snake conservation.
Authorities should not shy away from creating awareness, educating and even taking legal action if need be to curb the ‘Stunts with Snakes’ menace. Infact, experts need to guide the new generation of snake rescuers so their goal is not limited.
Dominance over wild animals is part of misplaced human behaviour. Fear and fascination for the reptile leads to the want to become famous. The media too needs to play a major role and stop glamourising snake handling.
The forest department should be more vigilant and proactive. All those working for snakes need to practise self discipline and show zero tolerance towards anyone involved in such activities.