Closed for long, shops turn host to slithering guests
Fire services and Forest Department have received several calls to rescue snakes in Chennai
When industries and shops in Chennai and its suburbs raised their shutters after months following the COVID-19 lockdown, many of them had surprise visitors — snakes.
According to the Tamil Nadu Fire and Rescue Services (TNFRS), it received 409 snake rescue calls between January and August 14. “Between March and August alone, we got 355 calls,” said a TNFRS officer. Of these calls, 66 were from shops, schools and industries. People have also been calling forest officials and snake rescuers after spotting snakes on their premises.
TNFRS personnel said that most often, they spot rat snakes, and sometimes, rescue cobras. “We also rescued a common bronzeback tree snake from the Tambaram Municipal Court recently. We have a snake-catcher stick to catch snakes and we them put them in a bag safely. We later release them into forests. We received training from the Snake Park in Chennai. We were taught how to catch snakes,” said A. Fateeh, station officer, Tambaram.
The Forest Department also has volunteers who help in snake rescues. People call the Forest Department at 044-22200335 for animal rescues. “However, we need more staff and transport facilities. We have around 15 staff and they go for all sorts of urban wildlife rescue. Every year, we rescue around 6,000 urban wildlife, including monkeys, snakes, birds and deer. Given the rapid development and density of houses, we need to double our staff to cover the city,” said a source from the Department.
Shravan Krishnan, an animal rescuer, said: “I have attended 15-20 calls during the lockdown. Most often, I spotted Russell’s viper, sawscaled viper and spectacled cobra. I inform the Forest Department and check if staff members are available. Otherwise, I go and rescue the snake and if they are non-venomous, I release them in forests nearby. If they are venomous, I hand them over to the Forest Department,” he said.
P. Gowri Shankar, herpetologist and King cobra conservationist, said that snakes came out a lot during the lockdown as human movement was restricted and there were fewer vehicles. “When they get food and shelter with a conducive temperature, snakes stay in one place for a long time. This can be in industries, shops or even residential areas,” he said.
Showkath Jamal, founder, Bay Of life Foundation, an NGO working on ocean and snake conservation, said some industries and offices along the OMR, ECR, GST Road and in areas like Oragadam, Sriperumbudur, Ekkaduthangal, Guindy and Ambattur contacted them after spotting snakes on campus.