A photographer and an event manager by profession, Lucknow's Aditya Tiwari is passionate about the cause of animals and through the NGO, Paryavarnam Society, he attends related SOS calls. He and his team of 12 volunteers, of which 50 per cent are females, work with the Awadh Forest Department and Lucknow Zoo, with a mission to provide a safe habitat for reptiles. Until now, with the aid of his team, this 29-year-old individual has rescued around 2000 snakes from various places in UP.
Read on to know more about Aditya Tiwari's avocation, as he dispels myths about snakes in a conversation with Knocksense.
Tell us about your journey as a reptile rescuer
I am a self-trained individual who has studied and researched his way through this journey. My team and I are snake 'rescuers' and not 'catchers', for it is our responsibility to ensure the safety of the reptile as well. We majorly work on urban wildlife (wildlife that thrives in urban or suburban environments).
How did you get interested in reptile rescue operations?
I was curious about different species of reptiles since childhood and watched Discovery and National Geographic to learn more and understand them. Later, I starting researching more on a personal level to dispel myths surrounding snakes and do something for them in a positive direction.
My first interaction with snakes was when I found one at my home, caught it and released it in the jungle. Then in 2012, I met with the officials of the Forest Department, which led to a collaboration. Today, I am involved in reptile rescue operations. If anyone needs help in this regard, they can dial 112 and the call will be forwarded to our rescue unit, who shall then take care of the situation at hand.
Share some details of your most exciting mission
I undertook a mission to rescue a snake during the lockdown, in April 2020, at the COVID patients' ward of Lucknow's Army Hospital. During that time, even going near a positive patient was unthinkable, so I had to go inside the ward wearing a PPE kit- the size of which was 5.5 ft and I am 6ft! I had to squeeze into the plastic gear with great discomfort.
The snake couldn't be spotted that day, however, I was contacted again a few days later and I found the reptile hiding behind a drum in the hospital store. The sense of relief and appreciation I received that day still fills me with pride. I had helped remove fear from the hearts of both the patients and the medical staff. After consultation with the army personnel present there, I released the reptile in a nearby jungle, thereby, introducing it in the right environment.
What is your aim in rescuing urban wildlife?
In our country, many myths and misinformation exist about snakes and the biggest 'credit' for this goes to Bollywood. In movies like Nagina and so on, you must've seen snakes dancing to the rhythm of 'Nagin music', which is completely false! Snakes do not hear sounds like we do because they lack an outer ear but only interpret vibrations, for their internal ear mechanisms are similar to ours.
Another issue is the connection of snakes with religion, owing to which people feed them milk. You can keep your beliefs intact as per your wish but let me tell you that snakes don't drink milk as they can't digest it! If snakes drink milk, then they may fall sick and eventually die.
The main mission as a rescuer is to spread awareness about snakes and shatter myths about them. People are scared of snakes and other reptiles majorly because they lack sufficient information about them. Instead, people should respect these creatures.
What are some other myths about snakes that our readers must know?
There is a misconception that snakes have a picture sharp memory that helps them avenge anyone who harms them or their mate. This myth has been chiefly propagated by drama series and glamorised by Bollywood scriptwriters. The truth is that a snake's brain cannot process such complex tasks, rather, it is focused on food, its routes, prey and mating activities.
Another myth is that snake bites lead to death. Totally untrue! There are over 350 species of snakes found in India and approximately 70 per cent of them are non-venomous. Indian Rock Python, Rat Snake (Dhamin), Red Sand Boa, Common Sand Boa, Checkered Keelback, Buff Striped Keelback, Common Wolf Snake, Barred Wolf Snake and Worm Snake- all these are non-venomous snakes.
Remember that snakes are not social animals and they prefer to coil up in dark, cool corners. Harming humans does not appear on their priority list unless one unnecessarily disturbs them, when they are looking for food, finding an easy route to food or engaging in mating activities. With the simple philosophy of 'live and let live', you can maintain balance in the ecosystem.
What are some venomous species of snake?
Indian Cobra, Krait, Russell's Viper and Saw Scaled Viper belong to the most venomous category of snakes. Together, these are termed as the 'Big Four' and have caused the maximum number of snakebite cases, especially in Lucknow and nearby districts.
What should one do if a snake bites them?
Medical treatment is necessary in the case of snakebite. It depends on which body part has been harmed and it usually takes 1 to 4 hours for the venom to penetrate, to make you unconscious or result in fatality. What you should remember is that the first hour is the 'golden hour' as, within this time frame, you can be treated.
Rush to the nearest hospital within the first hour for treatment and the person will be safe. The doctor will administer anti-venom and please don't opt for any 'jhaad foonk' as this will not be of any help. Most people in India are uneducated and unaware of snake habits and cannot identify whether they are venomous or not.
What to do if a snake enters our house or we find one in our immediate surroundings?
The first thing you should do is remain calm and remind yourself that the snake hasn't come with an intention to bite or harm you. It is likely that the snake is looking for food or shelter. Call the emergency number- 112 and watch the snake's movement from a distance, until help arrives.
If possible then make a video or take a picture of the snake from a distance of around 10 feet as this will help the rescuers in identifying the species. Don't forget to observe the movement of the snake because it may travel into pipes or smaller places. Once the rescue team arrives, it shall safely relocate the reptile to a less populated area, away from humans.
How can you prevent a snake from entering your house?
If you live in a green neighbourhood then there is a high chance of a snake entering your house so the first step for prevention is to ensure that there are no small holes, cracks or spaces in your doors. Even the manholes should be properly plugged. Secondly, maintain cleanliness and ensure that your house is free of mice and roaches, for Rat Snakes can sniff their prey from the smell of their droppings.
Message for our readers by Aditya Tiwari
"Look, please don't disturb them. If you will disturb them, they will disturb you. Please don't kill them. By killing you are destroying the natural ecosystem which will ultimately affect all of us."
He further added, "If you find a snake or any other reptile species or wildlife, immediately call 112 and a team will rescue it for sure. But please don't kill them. My main motive is to educate people about these reptiles and urban wildlife, whenever needed. Make yourself aware through research and also spread this awareness among others. My only request to people is to live and let them live."
-With pictures and inputs by Pawan Kaushal