Snake charmers now to the rescue of reptiles
Snake charmers - once a ubiquitous fixture of street performances and festivals - have now donned the role of snake rescuers, protecting the reptiles using their tracking and trapping skills. In their new avatar, the snake charmers receive a monthly salary and their services are used in rescuing snakes that sneak into urban areas. Former snake charmer Rajbir recalls how he used to extract money fr
New Delhi: Snake charmers - once a ubiquitous fixture of street performances and festivals - have now donned the role of snake rescuers, protecting the reptiles using their tracking and trapping skills. In their new avatar, the snake charmers receive a monthly salary and their services are used in rescuing snakes that sneak into urban areas. Former snake charmer Rajbir recalls how he used to extract money from people by showing a cobra.
Today, Rajbir (35), who is the sole bread earner of a family of eight, works as a snake rescuer in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh. The tracking and trapping skills taught by his father are now being used to rescue the reptiles. “I used to see my father travel day and night with the snakes, begging around in the sun. I hated it," Rajbir said. “I save the lives of snakes and people and I am earning good 'karma' for my family as well.
Now, I take dignity and pride in my job,” he said. City-based NGO Wildlife SOS has provided him and many other snake charmers from Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan an opportunity to become snake rescuers. “Wildlife SOS has been working towards eradicating this practice in India by helping the members of snake charming community and providing them with a more stable source of income. "Today, over 50 families from the community are working on various WSOS projects,” Kartick Satyanarayan, co-founder of Wildlife SOS said.
Before snake charmers like Rajbir turned into rescuers, they often extracted the fangs of the snakes and removed their venom glands to prevent the snakes from biting. According to the NGO, thousands of snakes are poached from the wild and in the case of venomous ones like cobras, their fangs were crudely extracted, and the venom glands were gouged out, thus disabling the snake’s only means of defence, feeding, and digestion. Non-venomous snakes are also not spared and have their mouths stitched shut, making it impossible for them to eat.
Many charmers starve the snakes and keep them in the dark. They are cramped in cane baskets so that the snake charmer can earn money by exhibiting them. "It is a cruel and inhumane practice which exploits the lives of innocent wildlife species," say wildife experts. Capturing snakes and using them for display and entertainment is banned and a bailable offence under the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972. "Awareness regarding the illegality of the offence and the abominable treatment of these animals is incredibly important to curb cruelty and poaching of wildlife," says Geeta Seshamani, co-founder of Wildlife SOS .
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