27 November 2012

Snake encounters

In a recent post, I had written about some of the animals that share our living space, often without us noticing them. I had also mentioned that the night watchman had seen a snake on the road one night.

Snakes are quite common, even in cities. Recently a friend found a baby cobra in her garage. In Whitefield, on the city’s eastern limits, snake sightings are even more common. A friend has seen cobras in her Whitefield compound on several occasions and the community office has anti-venom available at all times. Snake catchers are often called in to come and catch the forlorn snake and take it to a forest outside the city, where it won’t be disturbed by humans. Snakes are not usually killed because they’re considered to be a manifestation of the snake god and killing it would be inauspicious.

Luckily I haven’t had many encounters with snakes. I did see a cobra once in Sri Lanka (caught in the photo above). And last year while travelling with a friend in Orissa, we saw what we first thought was a monkey’s tail resting on a wooden fence next to our cottage. But then the ‘tail’ started to slither away… which took some time, it was so big! And we had slept with all the doors and windows wide open because it was so hot!

Just when I was thinking of writing this post on snakes, I got an email from my friend A who lives in rural Tamil Nadu. The subject of the email was ‘snake stories’. I thought I would share them here:

About a month ago was out for my late afternoon walk. It was about 1/2 hr. before dark. Walking down a pathway saw a woman in front of me stopped. She was looking at something. As I got closer saw the scene of 2 snakes wrapped around each other. We stood in silence watching them struggling and every so often making a move like kissing each other! They were smack in the middle of the path so no way to walk around them. After about 10 min. we turned back to find an alternate way home. We couldn't figure out whether the snakes were fighting or mating! Next day looked on the Net and found something on youtube that looked similar to what I had witnessed. It was mentioned as a mating ritual. A week later met a guy who is a snake catcher. Described what I had seen and he said that they were definitely fighting to be 'top snake'. The amazing thing was though that they usually move in and out of the bush but in this case they stayed on the pathway as though giving a show. They were non-poisonous rat snakes. If they had been cobras don't think I would have stayed so close!
There is a man, Rom by name, who is a herpetologist. He has travelled the world studying snake habits. His wife writes a column in the newspaper called "My husband and other animals". The articles are both educative and amusing. She tells of the time Rom was working in Papua New Guinea studying pythons. One day he arrived home after being away for a few days and found his house door broken open. Just inside the door the thieves had dropped their tools. Nothing had been stolen. Why? His window sills were very wide and he kept pythons, for study purposes, on several of the ledges. When the thieves saw the snakes they hightailed it out of there!
The neighbour where I stayed for 18 months had a habit of beating snakes to death. Neighbours would call upon him when necessary. One day he thought he had killed the offending snake. As he walked away though the snake started chasing him. Lucky for him, he managed to run to safety.
I stayed in a nice little cottage for 1 year. It was located just outside a cashew trope and seemed to be in the pathway for snakes travelling back and forth for their food. One night I arrived home at around 9:30 p.m. Got ready for bed and on my way to the staircase (bedroom was upstairs) saw movement behind a chair located just next to the staircase. Behind the chair was a fat brown snake with diamond shape patches on it. It moved toward the staircase. Decided to talk to it as could think of no other options. Said something about 'I won't hurt you. When I come downstairs in the morning I want you gone'. It moved back behind the chair and I went upstairs, got into bed, making sure the mosquito net was tightly tucked around my bed. Next morning the snake was gone! Found out from someone later that it was a Russell's viper, poisonous.
My colleague, M, tells the story of a cobra falling into his rainwater tank. The snake could not get its grip on the sides of the tank to climb out. So M put a ladder into the tank and the snake came out. A week or so later M was walking towards his house when he saw a snakehead raised up moving back and forth. M stopped. After a few more movements the snake went away. He believes it was the cobra he rescued saying a thank you.

My next post will be about another type of creepy crawly! (Also inspired by my friend A.)

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