Hunsur Snake Encounters

With my legs still itchy from numerous tick bites i received from my Bhadra trip a week ago, i started off to Hunsur for a Snake handling camp. This was conducted by Gerry Martin Project. The aim was to learn about snakes and snake handling. This would be the first time for me to actually learn about these creatures. On friday morning, i picked up Sharada, Asha, Arun and Neerav and started off to camp. 3 hours later we reached the camp. Our camp coordinator, Chaitanya had not yet arrived and so we were loitering around. The farm belonged to Gerry Martin a well know Herpetologist. Chaitanya, former IBMer, introduced us to other two participants Adam Blair and Dinesh.  The schedule was simple.

Day 1: Basics Of Snake Handling (Theory) and Practical Sessions

After lunch, we were shown some basic rules of snake handling. The non-venomous snakes were brought in for the intro. The very first snake we saw was Wolf Snake. The tiny creature was non venomous and just palm sized.

Lycodon Capucinus a.k.a Wolf Snake - Non Venomous

The Wolf Snake belongs to Colubridae family and are generally considered non-venomous. We played with the snake for sometime and put it back in its bag. This snake was shedding its skin which made it passive. The next snake given to us was Banded Racer which also belonged to Colubridae family. It got the name due to its speed . These are classified as one of fastest snakes in the world. I found it to be tiny but very slippery.

Dendrelaphis Tristis a.k.a Common Indian Bronzeback

This was a very active snake and was quite difficult to handle. I thought its only matter of time before it bites me. Luckily that did not happen. I understand that it would have been a torture for the snake as it was passed around from one person to another. Soham decided to bring on a larger snake just to please the crowd who were slightly disappointed with tiny snakes. Rat Snake, known to be a very common snake and also a very dirty snake was brought out. At this point Sharada started talking about the rat snake she found near her house.

Ptyas Mucosus a.k.a Rat Snake - non-venomous

This guy turned out to be really strong and very difficult to handle. Me and my friends were having a tough time controlling this fellow. He has this weird habit of  coiling up his tail as seen the photo. I got to admit, his grip was very strong. The next snake for us to play around was the Common Indian Bronzeback. This snake had a beautiful striped design at the back and looked majestic. This was also the last non-venomous snake we saw for the day.

Argyrogena Fasciolata a.k.a Banded racer - non-venomous

Talk about Mr. Wolf meeting Mr. Bronzeback

How ya doing?

“Lets get rid of the worms and get real snakes” said Chaitanya, as we held our breath to embrace few of the most venomous snakes in India or probably in the world. We were warned not to handle them and it was reserved only for the experts. There was silence followed by a mild gasp at the sight of Spectacled Cobra which is part of the Big Four family. This is probably the closest i have been to a Cobra. This species has caused maximum number of deaths in India. The hissing sound of the reptile was very intimidating.

Naja Naja a.k.a Spectacled Cobra - Highly Venomous

Next in line was another deadly snake, Russell’s Viper. Combined with venom and speed its a well known nightmare. Its hiss is supposed to be louder than that of any other snake. We could clearly hear the hiss and see his body expanding, often an indication that he is preparing to strike. We watched with amazement at the alertness of this snake. It was much more smarter than Cobra. We found that the Cobra can be distracted with two people working together for its capture which is not the case with Russell’s Viper.

Daboia a.k.a Russell's Viper - Highly Venomous

The last in line was Common Krait. This snake is also highly venomous and is known to be cannibalistic in nature similar to King Cobra. This slick 1m long snake is a big killer in India. Once again we were not allowed to handle this snake due to its tricky nature. They are known to be fast and can strike with force. With my video camera i was zooming into the snakes head when it made a sudden strike. I was at least 2 meters away from the snake but i got so scared that i leaped back scaring Neerav who was also trying to take a picture.

Bungarus caeruleus a.k.a Common Krait - Highly Venomous

In the evening, we were thought a technique called Scaling to identify snakes. We were divided into 2 groups to do scaling for 2 different snakes. The procedure is available in the link provided. After the snake shows, we had rest of the evening to kill. Most of us took a walk around the farm. The farm where the camp was held is self sufficient. They grew paddy, corn, few vegetables and fruits.  They were also rearing animals. Of the lot, one cow in particular interested us. It had just given birth to a calf. We were excited to see the new born calf take her first step to drink milk from her mother. Neerav, a tea addict was denied second round of tea. We have reasons to believe that the calf had his share of milk. Chaitanya wanted us to go to sleep early. We had a presentation on snakes by Soham. Later on we saw the documentary “The Secrets Of King Cobra”.

Day 2: Handling Venomous Snakes & Snake Tracking

I woke up at 6:00 A.M and i could see only Sharada ready for the day. I knew there was going to a delayed start to the events. Me & Sharada decided to do some Bird Watching. I do not have knowledge of birds, so Sharada was kind enough to explain the method to identify birds. Before the session, Soham showed us techniques find the gender of the snake. The snake we took for the test was the rat snake. This method to identify the gender is called Sexing. The session started off with basic tips of handling Spectacled Cobra. Each of us got a chance to handle the great snake. The aim is to distract the snake and slowly pick up the snake using the “Snake Hook” and coax it to enter a bag. We soon found out that it was easier said than done. The snake reacted violently by hissing and striking when ever possible. Luckily for us Soham used his shoes to distract the snake while we managed to sneak behind and catch it with a hook. After our first encounter with the snake, we broke off for lunch.

Handling Cobra

After lunch everyone dozed off for an hour or so. The second session of snake handling began after the evening tea. We were asked to repeat what we did in the morning and time Soham would not help. This turned out to be much more difficult. It was almost impossible to sneak behind the snake. It kept its eyes locked on the person trying to handle the snake. It took lot of effort and patience to trick the clever reptile. Each of us tried many methods to break free from snake’s glance. Arun even tried snake dance to distract the snake. I guess he assumed the snake would get disgusted seeing him dance and turn away. That trick didn’t work.  Chaitanya drove off in his car to fill up fuel. We waited for sunset to start snake tracking in and around the farm with torches. We failed to find any snakes. After the dinner we were planning a presentation on Turtles, but that was delayed due to frantic search for missing Spectacled Cobra. One of the Cobras we used for handling earlier in the day had escaped from the bag. We did not find the Cobra.

Day 3: Trip To Nagarhole

We started off to Nagarhole in 2 cars. The plan was to drive through the forest and spot animals. Chaitanya and few others went ahead of us. We drove extremely slow stopping at every point to spot birds. The drive was pleasant but we did not expect to spot any animals other than birds. Our luck seemed to have changed since the Bhadra trip. Here are few sightings.

A Tusker

The Elephant was standing very close to the road. We got a good glimpse of him and he did of us. He let us go without a charge. We also spotted Mongoose very close to the road.

Mongoose - Photo By Asha

Peacock

Malabar Squirrel

There were quite a few birds spotted. The list is compiled by Sharada

  1. Black Kite
  2. Brahminy Kite
  3. Black Eagle
  4. Shikra
  5. Black Shouldered Kite
  6. Collared Scops Owl
  7. Common Koel
  8. Hawk-Cuckoo
  9. Common Crow
  10. Large Billed Crow
  11. Common Myna
  12. Rose Ringed Parakeet
  13. Crow Pheasant
  14. Peacock
  15. Purple-Rumped Sunbird
  16. Spotted/Scaly-breasted Munia
  17. Black-headed Munia
  18. Intermediate/Median Egret
  19. Little Cormorant
  20. Coot
  21. White-breasted Waterhen
  22. Purple Moorhen
  23. Whistling/Common Teal
  24. Cotton Teal
  25. Treepie
  26. Grey Jungle Fowl
  27. Red Wattled Lapwing
  28. Flame-backed Woodpecker
  29. Rufous Woodpecker
  30. Wagtail
  31. White breasted Kingfisher
  32. Common Blue Kingfisher
  33. Pied Bushchat
  34. Pied Kingfisher
  35. Babbler
  36. Red-vented Bulbul
  37. Red Whiskered Bulbul
  38. Black Drongo
  39. Racket Tailed Drongo
  40. Dusky Craig Martin
  41. Crimson-breasted Barbet/Coppersmith
  42. Small Green Bee Eater
  43. Hoopoe
  44. Blue Jay
  45. Spotted Dove
  46. Laughing Dove
  47. (Some) Quail
  48. (Some) duck – mallard?
  49. Pond heron
  50. Purple Heron
  51. Sparrow
  52. Magpie Robin

Some Information: Its known that snakes belonging to Colubridae family are non-venomous. A recent research proved that they are equally venomous as Cobra/Vipers etc. There have been no reported deaths caused by these snakes. This is due to the fact that they have their venomous fangs situated deep inside the throat. That ensures that most bites are not exposed to those venomous fangs there by non fatal to humans. Iam yet to read the paper stating this myself. I shall update the blog with that paper.

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6 responses to “Hunsur Snake Encounters

  1. Nice write up! But you have got the racer and bronzeback mixed up in the pictures… 🙂
    Videos are nice!

  2. Dude……..Awesome…..

  3. Thanks to arun and Soham for correcting the error in pic label.

  4. Varun, good stuff again.. 🙂 ok, This Sharada? is her full name Sharada Annamaraju? If yes, she was my class mate in ACJ. And she is an Ornithologist..! maybe its a strange coincidence… let me know!

  5. Varun, great expedition….A very well written blog as well…U seriously have amazing interests…Keep it up!

  6. @Ganesh Thanks!

    @anusha, no, not the same…..

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