Reptilian incursions

A Snake Helpline volunteer rescues a snake trapped in a car wheel.

When a snake entered the main hall of the Orissa Legislative Assembly(OLA) building here recently, it was a big shock for the legislators who virtually forced the Speaker to stop the proceedings of the house for a day out of fear. Never before in the history of the state Assembly, had the House been adjourned becuase of snake menace .

 However, the incident did not surprise the citizens of Bhubaneswar who have been facing the menace for long.

 “Incidents of snakes invading houses and residential complexes have become so widespread in the capital city that it did not surprise me when I came to know about the assembly episode from television channels and newspapers”, said Suhash Mishra, a resident of Nilakantha Nagar in Bhubaneswar.

Snake Helpline to the rescue
Snake Helpline is a Bhubaneswar based NGO whose members have become extremely popular in the state capital for their prompt response to distress calls from panic stricken citizens after snakes enter their homes. Its volunteers have captured as many as 500 to 600 snakes in the city and subsequently released during the last year. The snakes include a few dreaded and fearful varieties like the King Cobras.
“We receive two to three distress calls from the people almost everyday”, said Subhendu Mallick who heads Snake Helpline who had played a key role in restoring normalcy in the state assembly after the recent “snake crisis” in the Orissa House.

However, others say, the number could be much more as many people, particularly in the new colonies that have come up in the city outskirts, catch the snakes on their own and kill them without informing the Snake Helpline or any other agency.

The menace has triggered more fear among the citizens as they never know where they will encounter a snake. There are instances of snakes invading odd places like inside cars and even refrigerators. “I have once rescued a cobra from a person’s refrigerator”, confirmed Mallick.

Old timers are of the view that the city is currently facing the snake problem because of destruction of large number of forests in and around Bhubaneswar for expansion of the city.

Urbanisation of Bhubaneshwar
“Bhubaneswar was originally a forest and hilly area. Naturally it was home to a large number of snakes and other reptiles. When the state capital was shifted from Cuttack to Bhubaneswar, the construction work forced the wild animals and reptiles like snakes to flee to forests in the outskirts of the city. Now even those forest areas are being destroyed for city expansion. Therefore, the snakes have no other option but to enter residential areas in search of habitats”, explained Nabaghana Sahu, a veteran of 78 summers who had seen the growth of Bhubaneswar from a cluster of small villages to a big city.  

What worries experts is the killing of some endangered snake species by the panicky residents. “Recently in Tomando area in the outskirts of the city, panicky people killed an Indian python though the reptile is a harmless one compared to other varieties of snakes”, said Mallick.

 The menace, according to experts, can be controlled only through awareness among the people about the snakes. “In fact, we have already launched an awareness campaign among school children in the city”, said Mallick.

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