Don't panic or kill snakes, dial any of these numbers for rescue in Kerala

It's important not to panic or kill a snake when it's spotted. Photo: Marcel Storp / iStock

In Kerala, it is of course common to see homes getting flooded during the rainy season. And it is equally common to see snakes and other creatures making your homes their habitat. But then it can be fatal if some of those snakes turn out to be poisonous. What’s the solution to this impending danger? Relax! Did you know that the forest department has issued an app called SARPA for this purpose?

SARPA app (Snake Awareness Rescue and Protection App) was launched in January 2021 with the aim of protecting snakes, creating awareness about them as well for the safety of people. It has been developed in collaboration with the Wildlife Trust of India. If you see a dangerous snake in your home or surroundings, you can use the app to contact the snake catchers. In Kerala, there are about 1720 people in this sector, including forest department officials and volunteers. Assistant Conservator of Forest, Sarpa State Nodal Officer Y. Muhammad Anwar speaks to 'Manorama Online' about the app and its features.

How to seek help through SARPA app.

1720 snake catchers

SARPA works at the district level. Each district has coordinators. Similarly, there is a district-level WhatsApp group, and the information coming through the 'Sarpa' app is also shared in the WhatsApp groups of the respective districts. Out of the 1720 people who have been professionally trained in the state, half of them are forest department staff. Some of them have to travel to different places as part of their work. So they may not always be available by phone. Such people are excluded from the poster. Only the number of people who are always available is included in the app and the poster. You shouldn’t make life difficult for people.

Women who joined because of passion

As far as forest officials are concerned, training is mandatory. But they need to catch snakes only if they are interested. But not so with volunteers. They voluntarily approach you to be trained. Lawyers, doctors, journalists, techies, drivers, laborers, and fire and rescue civil defense volunteers from various fields have been trained. There are also housewives who have been trained. More than 200 women have been trained to catch snakes. Only in the Alappuzha district, there are no women volunteers.

Ernakulam, Malappuram, and Kottayam districts have the highest number of reported cases in the Sarpa app. And Palakkad has had the highest number of snakebite cases in the last 10 years. Vipers and cobras are responsible for most of the deaths.

Snakes visit before rains

Before the start of the rainy season, baby snakes were seen around the houses. With the arrival of rain, there was an increase in its number. Kottayam, Ernakulam, Thiruvananthapuram, and Alappuzha received the highest number of phone calls. People who have stayed away from their homes due to flooding are likely to see snakes when they return. So many more people are likely to report.

Snakes in Perinthalmanna Hospital

Snakes entered the Perinthalmanna District Hospital due to unhygienic conditions. As soon as the information was received, the volunteers reached there and caught the baby snakes. However, when they were told that the snakes appeared again, they came back and caught the rest. At present, the area is being kept clean.

How to use the app

If you see a snake, you can directly call the number of the district coordinators. Or you can transfer information using the SARPA app. You can download the app from Play Store. After turning on the location on the mobile phone, take a picture of the snake and upload it. It doesn't matter if there is no snake in the picture. If it is a venomous and large snake, stay away. Just snap a picture from a distance and send it. They will catch the snake and release it into the forest.

Following are the phone numbers of snake rescue volunteers in different places in Kottayam:

The app also provides the phone number and e-mail address of all the licensed snake keepers in all districts in the state as well as the nearest snake keepers in your area. They will reach the place with the help of a Google map and take the necessary action. The forest department has given them a kit including equipment worth Rs 2800 for free. Their work is done without charging a fee. Some households kindly offer money for fuel for economically backward volunteers. There are projects being planned to get Panchayat support for volunteers. No final decision has been made in this regard.

Beware of these snakes

There are 114 varieties of snakes in the state. Out of which, 10 are poisonous. Cobras, Krait (Velli Kattan), Viper (Anali), and Saw-scaled viper (Churuttamandali) are considered to be the most dangerous snakes. There are also more deaths reported due to their bites. Since it is not possible to know which snake has bitten, antivenom is used against all four snakes. Cobras and pythons are the most common species that reach the inhabited areas in the state. King cobras are also seen more now. The forest department intervened and saved them and released them into the forest area, mostly cobras.

Always keep the number of volunteers and district coordinators with you. Don’t go near snakes. The reality is that most snakes are non-poisonous. But since we can’t detect the type it is better to stay away from them. 

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