Snake diversity of Jammu City

Amit Sharma
A SOS phone call on November 11 at around 8:00 am, the caller in a highly tensed voice said that there is a snake in my Dressing table, although I was equally shocked that how come a snake sneaked into a dressing table in the bedroom. The Man Animal Conflict Resoultion Team (MACRT) of the Wildlife Division Jammu was deputed, which reached the complainer house within 25 minutes. The first call that I recieved from the team member was that the Snake in the dressing table is a “Spectacled Cobra”, highly poisonous neurotoxic. The trained team safely rescued the Spectacled Cobra and was brought to Manda Deer Park to be released in the forest area.
On the Earth, there are about 2800 known species of snakes out of which 375 species are known to be poisonous. India has vast potential and rich diversity of snake fauna of which 242 species have been identified including 52 poisonous. Out of these 52 known poisonous species, only 4 species are refered as “Deadliest” i.e Indian cobra, Common krait, Russell’s viper, Saw-scaled viper.
Snakes are highly specialized of all the reptiles in existence and the poisonous snakes are the zenith of their specialization. Snakes are elongated, legless, carnivorous reptiles and can be found on every continent except Antarctica, in the sea, and as high as in the Himalayan Mountains like the Laventine Snake (coffin snake or gunas in Kashmiri and Himalayan Pit Viper of Dachigam National Park. Snakes use smell to track their prey. They smell by using their forked tongues to collect airborne particles, then passing them to the vomeronasal organ or Jacobson’s organ in the mouth for examination. The fork in the tongue gives snakes a sort of directional sense of smell and taste simultaneously. They keep their tongues constantly in motion, sampling particles from the air, ground, and water, analyzing the chemicals found, and determining the presence of prey or predators in the local environment.
The underside is very sensitive to vibration. This allows snakes to be able to sense approaching animals by detecting faint vibrations in the ground. The cobras, vipers, and closely related species use venom to immobilize or kill their prey. The venom is modified saliva also called as “Super Saliva”, delivered through fangs. Snakes are strictly carnivorous, eating small animals including lizards, frogs, other snakes, small mammals, birds, eggs, fish, snails or insects. Because snakes cannot bite or tear their food to pieces, they must swallow prey whole.
In the last two and half years the MACRT has rescued more than 530 number of snakes from the Jammu City alone, from every nook and corner of the city i.e Shastri Nagar, Gandhi Nagar, Pacca Danga, Jain Bazar, Panjthirthi, Panama Chowk, Jullaka Mohalla, Janipur, Roop Nagar – from the lawns, terraces, water tanks, kitchens, bed rooms, shoe racks, almirahs, dressing table and even to the headlight of a motorcycle. Once a Black Cobra which got stuck in the melted black top (because of high tempertaure) of a road was also rescued and a Spectacled Cobra which got stuck to the rat catching glue board was also safely rescued by the MACRT. These snakes have also been rescued from the highly fortified VVIP’s residences, schools, colleges, govt. offices and private complexes. The Department of Wildlife Protection i.e. the Wildlife Division Jammu, has given training to the staff of security personnel of the Chief Minister to capture the snakes in case of emergencies and have also been provided with the snake tongs and boxes, since then the SPG have safely captured the snakes and handed over to the wildlife department. And such training has also been given to the staff of Jammu Tawi Golf Club so that the snakes can be safely rescued from the club area.
The 530 number of snakes that have been rescued belong to 13 species, out of these, three species are poisonous in nature i.e Cobra, Russell’s Viper and Common Indian Krait. About 95 no. of cobras (Spectacled cobra and Black Cobra), 82 no. of Russell’s Viper, 2 no. of Krait have been rescued. The 11 non-poisonous species of snakes have also been rescued which includes Indian Pythons (23 no.), Royal or Diadem Snake, Common Wolf Snake, Common Rat Snake, Cat Snake, Checkered Keelback Snake, Russell’s Earth Boa, Common Sand Boa, Common Banded Kukri and Trinket.
The snakes have been rescued from the Snake Charmers in and around the temples in Jammu City and also from the Katra area, as keeping snakes in captivity is a violation of the provisions of “The Jammu and Kashmir Wildlife Protection Act 1978 AA 2002.” For every SOS call either routed through Police Control Rooms or directly to any Official of the Wildlife Department, whose mobile numbers have been mentioned in the Department Website, there is a very quick response. The MACRT is highly trained team headed by a Block Officer and other staff and is equipped with Snake Tongs (snake catching sticks), boxes and a tata moible rescue vehicle. For every call recieved the information is entered in a data sheet like the phone number of the caller, name of the caller, time of complaint, team head, rescue/capture time, address and most importantly the GPS Location of the site. The GPS location is latter on plotted on the Google Earth so as to have an idea of snake’s distribution, location, habitat type and of the surroundings from where it has been rescued.
GPS Locations plotted on the Google Earth.
The snakes have a very important role in our ecosystem, as they keep a check on the population of rats and other animals that can be preyed upon, it was thought that these snakes be displayed to the visitors of Manda Deer Park for the education purpose and awreness, that all the snakes are not posionous and do not posses threat to humans, untill and unless threatened. The permission was given by the Chief Wildlife Warden J&K Govt. to construct a Snake Enclosure in the Manda Deer Park wherein the snakes rescued be displayed to the visitors. The four snake enclosure were construced wherein four species of snakes have been kept for display, the snakes are not kept too long in the snake enclosures as these are replaced by the new rescued snakes i.e. whenever a snake is rescued it is kept in the snake enclsoure while the previous one in the display is released back in the forest area. For the knowlegde of the visitors the sign boards of Do’s and Don’ts incase of Snake Bite has also been installed. The snake enclosure has become a major attarction for the visitors in Manda Deer Park.
Snakes often disappear during the cold winter months and do not actually hibernate, rather they become less active during cold weather called as “Brumation”. The cold-blooded animals like snakes need to spend the winter in-active or dormant as they have no mechanism to keep warm. Brumation is in fact an extreme slowing down of their metabolism. Snakes are awake, but just very lethargic so you don’t see them moving around. Snakes will crawl into any area free from frost such as caves, hollow logs, holes under trees and stumps, under wood piles, in other animal’s burrows, and occasionally in a person’s basement. The snakes are being rescued during the winter season i.e. in the months of December, January and February also, may be because of climate change or more specific impact of global warming that needs to scientifically investigate.
With the latest technologies, new tools are available to keep one’s premises off the snakes, but till those technologies are disseminated to all, the Department of Wildlife Protection is working 24×7 to keep the public safe from the snakes and vice versa. In this regard the instructions have been issued by Sh. Suresh Kumar Gupta (IFS), Chief Wildlife Warden, J&K Govt. to the Wildlife Wardens to equip the MACRT with the snake boots, snake bite protection gloves, snake hooks, search lights and the light snake boxes.
It is requested to all, that killing a snake is no solution but an offence, under “The Jammu and Kashmir Wildlife Protection Act 1978 AA 2002”. It is better to call the officials of the wildlife department or the police control room and keep an eye on the snake, the MACRT will rescue the snake in the shortest possible time. The wildlife too has a right to live.
(The author is Assistant Conservator of Forests (Wildlife)