The month of ‘Shravan’ or ‘Sawan’ is the fifth month of the Hindu calendar, considered auspicious for devotees of the Shiva, one of the primary Hindu gods. Mondays and festival days like Nag Panchami in particular are considered especially auspicious, and devotees flock to Shiv temples to pay homage to the deity. Due to Shiva’s frequent depiction with a serpent coiled around his neck, saperas or ‘snake charmers’ will often display their snakes at such gatherings, to take advantage of the people’s devotion and scam them into giving them money.
The truth about snake charming is nothing short of horrifying. Snakes are poached from the wild and subjected to devastating procedures to prevent any mishaps during handling by the sapera.
In the case of venomous snakes like cobras, the fangs are crudely extracted and the venom glands are painfully gouged out or burst, thus disabling the snake’s only means of defense, feeding and digestion, essentially condemning it to a slow, excruciating death. Nonvenomous snakes are not spared either, and have their mouths stitched shut, making it impossible for them to eat. The snakes are starved and kept in dark, cramped cane baskets for the rest of their lives, so the snake charmer can earn money by ‘charming’ the snake.
In fact, even the act of charming a snake with music from a flute is based on incorrect facts, as snakes are deaf and cannot actually hear the music being played. The terrified serpents will rear up and sway as an attempt at self-defense because the vibrations from the flute and the motion of the swaying instrument appear threatening to it. Snakes are starved for months, without food or water, and will drink milk or water in a desperate attempt to alleviate dehydration, leading to the common myth that snakes at festivals will drink milk presented to them as offerings from devotees.
This year, on the second Monday of the month, our anti-poaching team received a tip-off from an informant regarding a number of saperas around temples in the city of Agra. A rescue team from Wildlife SOS’ Agra Bear Rescue Facility was dispatched immediately, accompanied by the local police and members of the Forest Department.
In all, 33 snakes were rescued during the raid, which lasted nearly an entire day. 27 cobras, 4 rat snakes, a red sand boa and an Indian rock python were seized and brought to the Wildlife SOS centre. The snakes were in dismal condition, with stitched mouths, smashed fangs and extracted venom glands, and it took the veterinarians at ABRF quite a while to treat each animal.
The snakes are now at the centre and are being treated and cared for under the observation of the veterinary team, to determine whether release back into their natural habitat will be feasible.
In short, there is nothing ‘charming’ about snake charming. Wildlife SOS urges tourists and locals alike to never encourage the use of any animal for entertainment, display and performances for money. Giving alms to snake charmers or paying to watch an animal perform only encourages the brutal treatment of the animal and promotes illegal possession of wildlife and the continuity of cruelty towards animals. Snake charming is not enchanting, or brave. It is simply a cruelty-laced means of earning money off the poaching, misery and torture of a wild animal.