Tryst with a Rat snake
After a long time I had the opportunity of going out with Irulas on a snake catching trip. After informal introductions we decided to go to the scrubland of Manimangalam near Tambaram in the outskirts of Chennai. I was accompanied by Mr. Ramesh, my colleague in Care Earth. As we were walking on a village road from Bus stop to Manimangalam, we came across a juvenile Ratsnake that was staying still in the vegetation. Once it sensed our presence it started moving. Mr. Appavu my Irula friend caught the snake and brought it out to show it to Ramesh. Ramesh was thrilled in holding the snake. We later entered the Palm tree forest looking for Russells viper. Appavu works for the Irula Cooperative where venom is extracted from the Big Four venomous namely Cobra, Krait, Russell’s viper and Saw scaled viper for producing the life saving Anti-venom serum. At present he has order and license for catching Russell’s viper. The habitat consists of palm trees, grasses and a stream that flows through it. Appavu started searching for Russell’s viper in the dried palm leaves that had fallen down. This wasn’t fruitful. Several indicators of diversity such as plants like Asian Bush Beech (Gmelina), Rauvolfia were observed. Puffball mushroom was also observed on the forest floor. Even after strenuous searching in palm tree habitat no snakes were sighted. Later we continued our search in grassland. This grassland must have once been a paddy field. Paddy was cultivated on the other side of the stream. Appavu started his search again in a vegetation bund at the center of the paddy field. This was also not productive. We later crossed the stream and went to the greener area of paddy cultivation. Appavu was looking for Cobra to show me and Ramesh. This also didn’t materialize. A Checkered Keelback water snake (Xenochropis piscator) was seen along with a Pond Turtle (Melanochelys trijuga) in a well. Appavu feasted us with a ripe palmyra fruit (Borassus flabellifer) that had fallen down. The fleshy part was roasted and given to us which was delicious: Baya Weaver birds with their elaborate hanging nest were seen on Palmyra and Phoenix palm trees in this area. The general observation was that the areas where snakes were found, are rich biodiversity. Irulas do little damage to the ecosystem as they sustainably use the snake habitat. Life of an Irula is interwoven with nature. Due to unhealthy developmental activities like Real estates in the countryside, snakes are losing their original habitats.
The author, Dr. J. Subramanean is a Herpetologist with Care Earth Trust, who has vast experience in handling snakes and studies in Reptiles.