Karnataka to host first-ever study of Russell’s viper

Karnataka to host first-ever study of Russell’s viper

Telemetry study of Asia's most venomous snake in Hunsur, Mysuru district

Russell's viper

Come July, herpetologists and foresters will begin a first-of-a-kind radio telemetry study of 30 Russell’s vipers, one of the most dangerous snakes in all of Asia that accounts for thousands of deaths each year. A six-gram radio chip will be inserted in the cavity of each snake to track its movements and understand its behaviour. 

The three-year-long study will be carried out in the rural pockets of Hunsur, Mysuru. It also seeks to understand the reasons behind the large number of man-snake conflicts reported from this part of Karnataka. 

Noted herpetologist Gerry Martin, the brain behind the study, hopes to dispel several myths. “Whatever information we have about Russell’s viper is anecdotal,” he said. “But now, we will be ground-truthing the whole area. We will know its food habits and attacking behaviour. We hope to be able to assess why this snake chooses particular geographical areas. People draw their own conclusions about snakes but that needs to change.” 

Sumanth Madhav, campaign manager, wildlife, Humane Society International/India, will be part of the study. He said: “India sees over a million snakebites every year and most of them involve Russell’s viper. Details of the snake’s behaviour, ranging and movement patterns will help herpetologists and rescuers develop precautionary measures that can be passed on to the general public. Understanding the snake better through safe radio telemetry studies in an agrarian landscape will assist in scientific management of the conflict in this species.”  The radio chips, being donated by a Canadian firm, will not affect the snake’s regular patterns, according to Martin.