One man’s auspicious occasion becomes another animal’s bane. As the country regards the divinity of Lord Shiva, it is ironic that one of the animals associated with the deity bears the brunt of his worship. Yes, we are talking about snakes, or the nagas. In the months of July and August, Wildlife SOS teamed up with the Uttar Pradesh Forest Department to rescue 69 snakes from snake charmers via four different raids.
This year, the period of Shravan as per the Hindu calendar includes the months of July and August. It is during this time that we also observe an increase in the number of snake charmers in northern India. Snakes play a significant role in the festival’s celebration because of the reptile’s iconic presence with Lord Shiva.
In total, 63 spectacled cobras, 3 Indian rat snakes, one Indian rock python, one black-headed royal snake and one common sand boa were confiscated from snake charmers. One Indian rat snake’s body was found covered in mongoose hair to give it an exotic appearance, while the spectacled cobras were discovered to be defanged.
The snakes that were rescued in Uttar Pradesh were recovered from ten different temples: Kailash, Balkeshwar, Mankameshwar, Rajeshwar, Rawali, Bhuteshwar, Rangeshwar, Galteshwar, Gopeshwar and Prithvinath. The forest department arrested two snake charmers involved and was in the process of filing a case against them.
The Unjust Practice of Snake Charming
There is no charm in the practice of snake charming. To exploit the various superstitions associated with snakes, many of these snake charmers (saperas) perform unimaginable acts of cruelty on the voiceless reptiles. Snake charmers seal captive snakes’ mouths shut, and the latter endures prolonged starvation, all to support the myth that says that good fortune will fall upon a devotee who feeds the snake with milk. This is nothing short of a death sentence to the already traumatized and hungry snake that desperately reaches out for the milk.
In contrast to mammals, snakes lack the innate ability to break and digest the milk enzyme. This negatively affects their body and causes poisoning and a torturous death. Anytime you see a video surfacing of a snake lapping up milk, do remember the horror being faced by the snake!
Rescued snakes are found with numerous conditions like malnutrition and broken fangs. Venomous snakes cannot survive in the wild after their venom glands, that they use on their prey, have been removed. Often these glands are hacked using a sharp object, which leaves their wounds vulnerable to infections.
Immediately after the rescue, our team in Uttar Pradesh ensured that the severely dehydrated snakes were provided water. These snakes were also suffering from malnutrition. Far from slithering through their natural habitat, such captured reptiles are forced to remain in abhorrent conditions when they are crammed within small baskets.
No Festivities for India’s Snakes
The arm of the law is long, but tradition and false beliefs retain a stronghold over people’s minds. The Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act safeguards these reptiles, and snake charming was outlawed in 1991. However, due to mass ignorance, the festival of Shravan continues to showcase snakes that undergo violent treatment.
With the assistance of UPFD, while we managed to save several from distress, some snakes succumbed to the trauma they dealt with. To ensure the recovery of the surviving rescued snakes, our veterinary team carefully removes the stitches around the animal’s mouth before cleaning it with saline solution.
Wildlife SOS works tirelessly to educate the people and conducts awareness sessions to dispel ignorance and bust myths regarding reptiles and other non-charismatic animals. Shravan exemplifies how snakes have a greater reason to be afraid of us than we are of them. These reptiles continue to remain entangled in various forms of human-wildlife conflict along with the aforementioned cruelties.
You too can help. Spread awareness on snakes among your family and friends. Inform them that the tortures meted out to snakes during Shravan are anything but sacred. These magnificent and highly adaptable animals have evolved and grown accustomed to living in human habitats, and serve an important role in both urban and forested ecosystems.
If you spot a snake charmer (or a reptile caught in distress), remember, an innocent animal’s life might just be in your hands! Immediately reach out to the forest department or the nearest animal welfare organisation.
Contact us on our 24X7 Rapid Response helplines if you are based in the following locations:
Delhi NCR: +91-9871963535
Agra, Uttar Pradesh: +91-9917109666
Vadodara, Gujarat: +91-9825011117
Jammu and Kashmir: +91-7006692300/ +91-9419778280