Agumbe Rainforest Research Station
Agumbe Rainforest Research Station (ARRS) is a permanent field station of the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust, located on a 4.5 acre site, in the middle of Someshwara Wildlife Sanctuary and Agumbe Reserve Forest; approximately 1.5 km from Agumbe village, in Shimoga District of Karnataka. ARRS was founded by renowned herpetologist Romulus Whitaker in 2005, with the financial support of the late Doris Norden Chattopadhyaya and the Whitley Fund for Nature with the long term mission to study and conserve rainforests through applied ecological research, outreach programs and partnerships. ARRS employs a staff of 10. The administration and research team comprises of 4 people, while there are 6 employees from the local community.
Ajay Giri rescues and relocates King
Ajay and Allwin monitoring a King
The rescue team works with the locals and engages them in awareness programs.
A King Cobra nest was found very near a house with an understanding family who assisted in monitoring. The daughter, who is a zoology student, takes temperatures daily.
THE HINDU VISAKHAPATNAM
11-foot king cobra rescued from village in Chodavaram mandal
VISAKHAPATNAM, NOVEMBER 26, 2019 23:04 IST
The king cobra that was rescued from Chodavaram mandal in Visakhapatnam district being released into the forest on Tuesday.
An 11-foot king cobra was rescued from a village in Chodavaram mandal of Visakhapatnam district by forest officials and the members of Eastern Ghats Wildlife Society, on Monday late night. It was released into the reserve forest area on Tuesday morning.
According to sources, the villagers found the king cobra in a toilet of a house and alerted the rescue team. Residents from the villages nearby gathered in large number to see the snake.
“It was a female king cobra weighing around 5.5 kg. The species is among the longest poisonous snakes in the world. King cobras usually do not bite humans unlike vipers. Rather, they are afraid of humans,” a forest official said.
It was not for the first time that snakes were found slithering into villages in Chodavaram mandal, he said and appreciated that the villagers alerted the rescue team immediately without killing the snake.
‘Locals being trained’
The members of Eastern Ghats Wildlife Society said that local residents were being trained in the techniques to deal with snakes slithering into the villages.
EGWS and its endeavour for wildlife conservation in Visakhapatnam
Working with the rich ecosystems, of the lesser-explored ghat regions, is the Eastern Ghats Wildlife Society (EGWS), which strives to make a positive difference in Visakhapatnam. Murthy Kantimahanti, the Founder, shares the story.
“Our vision is to establish harmonious relation between humans and wildlife.”
The Eastern Ghats Wildlife Society (EGWS) was founded in 2014 as a science- driven conservation NGO in Visakhapatnam. Working at the grassroots level, its main objective is human wildlife conflict mitigation. Working throughout the Eastern Ghats, which spread along Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Odisha, the NGO is based out of Visakhapatnam. A five-member-team along with 30 volunteers, devote their time working on ground in the Visakhapatnam, Guntur, Krishna,Srikakulam and Vizianagaram regions. Their area of work encompasses wildlife conservation of the lesser known species like snakes, pangolins, other small mammals and reptiles.
“India is where a lot of snakebite deaths happen, mostly in agriculture and rural communities.”
With that being the case, Murthy feels often it is the lack of awareness, on prevention and action, becoming the underlying cause. Therefore, EGWS’s major focus is on addressing this gap. Additionally, the conservation of the King Cobra is their flagship initiative. Murthy laments how this longest venomous snake is worshipped on occasions like Nagulu Chavithi, only to be killed the very next day. He believes that sustainable solutions can only be achieved when one works with people, and initiatives are community-based and problem-oriented. So, while the team responds during cases of snake sightings, and rescues the reptiles, it more importantly engages communities in conserving species.
“Wildlife conservation isn’t much of dealing with animals, but more about working with people.”
With most threats being human-induced, the team talks to rural, tribal and urban communities through snake awareness programs, which are held at school-level too. The team has also provided training on safe snake rescuing and provided gumboots, torches and other tools to certain communities. Working closely with the Andhra Pradesh Forest Department, EGWS spreads awareness and stresses on the importance of equipping hospitals and primary health centers with antivenom.
“In most cases, deaths happen because of not doing the right thing in the event of a snake bite.”
Though hundreds of snakebite cases are being reported in districts like Krishna and Guntur each year, Murthy shares that envenomation is just in tens, and deaths are only two to four. These deaths usually happen because the victim wasn’t given the antivenom on time. However stressing that prevention is always better than cure, he goes on to share a few tips on safety.
“A majority of snakes are non venomous in nature. Their bites are harmless, and washing with soap and water, followed by applying an antiseptic is enough. The most common venomous snakes are the Common Cobra, Russell’s Viper, Saw- scaled Viper and Common Krait. Called the Big Four, these are highly adaptable and can live under our noses. However, they would not bite, unless they perceive a threat.
Venomous or not, snakes shouldn’t be killed, as they help in keeping the rodent/ frog population under control. They are friends to the farmer, while the venomous snakes like the King Cobra keep the population of other snakes under control. The first thing to do when you see a snake is to move away. In the case of a snakebite, one must try to move the person as little as possible and rush to the hospital for antivenom. Prevention is always better than cure, and wearing gum boots when working in farms, keeping surroundings clean, or using torchlights when walking in the dark can go a long way.”
“Compared to 2015, when they would kill snakes on sight, people are now taking pictures and sharing instead.”
A slow yet steady change in the society has definitely begun, he asserts. And while the challenges of having a committed staff and the lack of capacity building and resources do exist, support is now coming in. With future plans to work on conserving other reptiles as well, the days to come will see more trainings, workshops and awareness camps. Having received the Disney Conservation Grant, and as international conservation partner with Houston Zoo, USA, the road ahead beckons EGWS with promise.
Ideas to set up a conservation center for people to come and learn, and a field center to carry out conservation oriented research, is also on the cards. However, EGWS still needs to address certain gaps. Murthy feels that more dedicated people, and the ability to monetize and incentivise rescues, will go a long way. The road for Murthy Kantimahanti and EGWS is long and winding, and he’s geared up for what lies ahead.
Starting the EGWS
Having grown up in the green environs of Simhachalam, a love for animals in the wild was imbued into Murty Kantimahanti right from the start. From participating at snake shows, done by his uncle at the zoo, to seeing wildlife flourish around him, he saw the number of animals reducing and disappearing as he grew older.
That’s when he decided to do something for the wildlife in his backyard. With a Masters in Zoology, from the Andhra University, he went on to be part of an 18- month training programme at Florida, USA, on ‘Emerging Wildlife Conservation Leaders’. Having participated in other such programs, he finally returned to the Eastern Ghats, to work on the lesser explored wildlife and thus sowed the seed for the Eastern Ghats Wildlife Society in Visakhapatnam.
EcoSapiens Published: 11th June 2019
Jungle stories: How conservationist Ajay Giri is educating locals in and around Agumbe region about King Cobras and why they should be preserved
The Karnataka-based conservationist and researcher has been studying King Cobras for years now and aims to protect the biodiversity at Agumbe Rainforest Research Station
Ajay Giri using a device to track wild King Cobras in the Radio Telemetry Project (Pics: Shimoga Nandan)
The Western Ghats in South India have been home to King Cobras for many years. Therefore in 2005, Romulus Whitaker, the famous herpetologist and Padma Shree awardee, had set up Agumbe Rainforest Research Station (ARRS), an organisation to initiate studies not only on King Cobras, but the flora and fauna of Agumbe and Central Western Ghats of India. Ajay Giri started his journey with ARRS and dedicated his life to saving King Cobras and educating people about the majestic snake, their ecology and importance in the eco-system.
Ajay Giri is originally from the city of Akola in Vidarbha, Maharashtra. He was only 15-year-old when he developed an interest in rescuing snakes, birds and mammals. After completing his Bachelor’s in Commerce from a university in Akola, he moved to ARRS in 2009 to work as a Research Associate for one of their projects. He says, "Though I don't come from a Science background, I was always curious to learn and work in the wildlife sector. This is what brought me to Agumbe from Akola. After joining ARRS, I pursued a Master’s in Environment Science from a university in Nagaland through correspondence. It was only in college that I heard about ARRS which was working for the conservation of King Cobras found in the Western Ghats. Since 2009, I have been part of every project executed for King Cobras."
Starting with snakes
The first project that Ajay took up at ARRS was King Cobra Radio Telemetry Project under which, a chip-size transmitter is fixed in the coelomic cavity of a King Cobra and the snake is released into the wild. Then, these reptiles are tracked to understand the path they take, food consumption habits, habitat preference, mating and their reproduction cycle. Ajay says, "While transmitters were used in other animals to study them in different parts of the world, ARRS was the first organisation to use transmitters to track and study wild King Cobras. In the first phase, we inserted transmitters in four King Cobras. Every day, we would track them and monitor their activity until they went to sleep. I still remember how one female King Cobra, which had our transmitter fitted in it, was consumed by a male cobra. That's how our research lead to the understanding of cannibalism in these reptiles. Currently, the project is in its second phase where we have fixed transmitters in two male King Cobras."
Biggest threat: Rubber plantation, road widening and deforestation are the bigger threats to his indigenous wildlife
Gradually Ajay rose to different positions at ARRS. Currently, he works as a Field Director. Apart from handling the radio telemetry project, he is involved in two other projects, Human-Snake Conflict Mitigation Project and King Cobra breeding biology project. These two projects are designed to teach the lifecycle of King Cobras in a step-by-step method. Explaining further about these two projects, Ajay says, "There are agricultural lands and homes around the Western Ghats and the rain forest region in Agumbe. We come across many cases of human-King Cobra conflict on a regular basis. Whenever people find King Cobras in their homes or on their agricultural land, they call the Forest Department who in turn call us and we rush to the spot. We usually work within 100 km radius from Agumbe. We rescue the reptile only in the worst case scenarios like, if it is found on the ceiling of the house or found in a kitchen or a bathroom. If it is found near the house or in a burrow, then we try to convince the local to let it move into the woods without any disturbance. There is another misconception people have about us, they think that we capture them in cages, which is not true. We believe in their right to live in their habitat."
Ajay further adds, "During this whole process, we educate people about snake ecology, prevention and precautionary measures and steps to follow in case of snake bites. I ask people about when they spotted these King Cobras and make them understand that most of the female King cobras build a nest and lay eggs during their breeding season in the month of March and April. Meanwhile, more than one or two male King Cobras will follow the female’s scent trail for mating. In such cases, I request locals to observe them from a distance and don’t disturb them. When some people find it difficult to understand, I show them pictures and videos of previously documented King cobra behaviour. I have conducted many such programmes with the local villagers around Udupi, Shimoga and Chikkamagaluru districts whenever snakes or King Cobras were rescued." After these awareness programmes, people have truly learnt the basic steps. Now, whenever they find a King Cobra, they call Ajay while they observe the snake from a safe distance
His way of living: Ajay Giri has been into this work of rescuing King Cobras forinvolved in rescuing snake since 25 years
Ajay says that the interesting part of the female cobras is that they build a strong nest ground with the use of dry leaf litter to prevent the eggs from heavy rain and from other animal. "In the Western Ghats, neither guard the nest nor incubate them until they hatch. It leaves the place once its work is done. The eggs hatch by themselves. But in many cases, when the female Cobras lay eggs near human settlements, I along with in-charge forest department officials help convince the locals not to disturb the nest and reassure them that the hatchlings will be safely secured and released at a safe distance from their homes. After confirming that the female has left the nest, we build a barricade around the nest to create a safe space for the hatchling as well as people living nearby," he explains.
It is in this stage that Ajay brings school,college students and locals into the picture. They are brought to the place where these eggs are hatched and explained about the King Cobras, ecology, breeding methods and why they shouldn't be killed. According to his observation, it takes about 80 to 100 days for the eggs to hatch. Once these eggs hatch, Ajay collects scientific data like the number of eggs, male and female hatchlings, their length and weight. Then, these baby King Cobras are left into the wild in the presence of in charge forest department officials and locals..
When asked about the diet they consume and their behaviour, Ajay says, "In India, King Cobras exclusively feed on spectacled cobra rat snakes and vipers in India. While occasionally King cobras feeding on python and monitor lizard. If they sense a venomous snake, then they attack it on the hood and hold it in the mouth until the snake is paralysed. In the case of non-venomous snakes, they attack any part of the snake's body. Due to their cannibalistic behaviour, the larger King Cobras feed on smaller King Cobras too. They are elusive-natured and prefer to stay under canopies, in bushes and trees. King Cobras usually don't come out when there are animals like dogs, cats or even a hen around."
ARRS is open to anyone and everyone who has the interest to learn about wildlife. People, especially kids, can visit the place, observe the functioning and gain knowledge to spread awareness
Ajay Giri, Field Director, ARRS
Ajay’s latest project involves him tagging every rescued King Cobra in and around Agumbe region. He says, "It is called Passive Integrated Transponder Tagging in which, the tag is as small as a grain. It is inserted between the muscle and skin of a King Cobra. Like the Radio Telemetry transmitter, it doesn't need any battery to function. Till date, we have tagged 140 King Cobras. I will need two more years to tell an approximate population of the King Cobras in Agumbe rainforest."
Ajay hasn’t gone home for two years now. He says, "My work and projects, undertaken for the betterment of forest and animals, keeps me engaged. Even my parents have been very cooperative. Earlier, they were concerned and worried about me getting attacked by animals or snakes. Now, they understand that my work involves much more than handling animals or snakes."
West Bengal India
The people of West Bengal worship the cobra as incarnations of a goddess called Jhankleshwari
Immediate Awareness Needed
King cobras are being killed on sight in the Eastern Ghats in the Indian states of Andhra Pradesh and Telengana.
These photos were sent to KCC by KLN Murthy of 'Save the Snakes' and we are helping them change people's feeling toward king cobras. Contrary to what people believe very few people are bitten by king cobras which are alert, intelligent snakes who know how to keep away from dangerous humans. One of the best ways to convince people to protect king cobras is to teach them that king cobras are snake-eaters and some of their favorite prey are the snakes that cause tens of thousands of deaths in India each year: cobras, kraits, and vipers.