Thiruvananthapuram: Amid a few untoward incidents brought about by the misuse of poisonous snakes, the Kerala Forest Department has decided to rein in snake handlers. Only those with a licence from the Department will, henceforth, be allowed to catch snakes in the state.
The Department has issued an order that states that only those below 65 years of age and with the expertise and experience in catching snakes will be given the licence. It will be valid for five years.
Those who involve in substance abuse will not be considered for the licence. Also, those catching snakes without the licence will face 3-7 years in prison and will be fined.
An expert panel headed by the Assistant Forest Conservator of Social Forestry will select the candidates eligible for the licence. The selected candidates will have to undergo two days of compulsory training.
Licence-holders can only catch snakes that are considered a threat to human lives and are found in homes or near human settlements. As much as possible, they should avoid catching snakes that are not poisonous.
The licence-holders should also follow the Forest Department’s guidelines on releasing the snakes that are caught.
The licensed snake-catchers will be provided group insurance coverage considering the risks involved.
Legal actions will be taken against those obstructing licensed snake-catchers from doing their duty or those displaying snakes in public and indulging in other activities to seek attention.
The Department will use the services of the authorised snake-catchers to create awareness about the importance of snake ecosystems, the methods of identifying snakes and the ways to prevent snake bites.
It also plans to use a software to collect details of snake-related incidents.
Scrutiny follows shocking cases
The Forest Department came up with the guidelines in the wake of recent incidents such as using snakes to harm people and the death of a young snake-catcher in Thiruvananthapuram.
The Uthra murder case particularly highlighted the need to rein in activities related to the catching and display of snakes.
A young woman was allegedly killed by her husband Suraj by letting lose a cobra on her. The spine-chilling, rarely heard murder was reported from Anchal in Kollam district. Suraj had procured the snake from a snake-handler.
Moreover, Zakir Hussain, a snake-catcher from Mangalapuram in Thiruvananthapuram, died while a cobra he was catching at Navaikulam bit him.
In three years, 334 people have died of snake bite in Kerala and 1,860 have been wounded.