Wildlife around a 'tiger's lake'

Long ago, tigers used to come to this lake to drink water, which came to be called as ‘Pilikula’ or ‘tiger’s lake’. Today, it is home to a variety of wildlife, including the King Cobra, says Ronald Anil Fernandes.

Over a 100 Cobras rest on a tree branch, with a giant King Cobra staring at you, a couple of pythons lying on the floor, the Green Vine snake attracting everybody with its quick movements, the highly venomous Russell’s Viper and Krait, the non-venomous Trinket snake, Red Sand Boa and Common Sand Boa, the Rat snake, all together are here.

Charming snakes

You are in ‘Snake House’ at the Dr Shivaram Karanth Pilikula Biological Park, a major component of Pilikula Nisargadhama Society — which is a major tourist destination in coastal Karnataka. In fact, Pilikula Biological Park is the biggest Snake House in Karnataka and the only King Cobra breeding centre (in captivity) in India, selected by the Central Zoo Authorities in New Delhi.

Interestingly, there are 14 King Cobras in Pilikula, the largest collection in the world in captivity, informs Gerald Vikram Lobo, the Scientific Officer at the Park. The longest King Cobra in the Park measures 16 feet. In all, the Park has about 32 species of snakes numbering about 150 (in 32 enclosures) including the 8 endangered species — King Cobra, Indian Cobra, Checkered Keelback, Striped Keelback, Indian Rock Python, Rat Snake, Russell’s Viper and Reticulated Python.

If you think 150 is a small number, you are wrong, as the park authorities very frequently release the snakes (more than 100 a month on an average) in the reserve forests in Charmadi, Someshwar and Kudremukh. The pythons keep laying approximately 40 to 60 eggs which means that the Park is flooded with pythons!

Similar is the case with Cobra and Rat Snakes. Each species lays a minimum of over two to three dozen eggs. In addition, the Park gets about 50 to 60 rescued snakes every month. In rainy season, there are days when as many as 40 snakes are received at the park per day.

“The most interesting aspect about the snakes in the park is that most of the snakes in the park including all the 14 King Cobras were either rescued by the experts or found injured,” informs Park Director H Jayaprakash Bhandary.

King Cobra breeding

Besides the state-of-the art Snake House, the park authorities have a separate enclosure for captive breeding of King Cobra, where visitors are not allowed. “The 1,000 square feet exclusive enclosure for captive breeding of King Cobra, the one and the only one of its kind in the world, has all the necessary biological requirement of the King Cobra and the enclosure is as natural as its natural habitat,” Bhandary says.

He also adds, “So far, captive breeding of King Cobra has not taken place anywhere in the world, except at Pilikula where the park could successfully bred (captive) 80 King Cobras two years ago and 35 last year. Though a few claim to have done captive breeding, there are no proper records for the same.”

The park has installed microchips in all the 14 King Cobras. All the King Cobras have also been named and their names include Nagendra, Nagini, Karkotaka, Raja, Manju and Joy among others. Joy is named after a person (Joy Mascarenhas) in Ujire who rescued the snake and brought it to the Park. The Park also has the credit of possessing a King Cobra which survived for 22 years as against its usual survival period of 18 years. However, it died three years ago.

Considered to be the largest venomous snake in the world and capable of attaining length of 5.5 to 6 meters, the King Cobra is uncommon in every part of its range and is considered endangered in India. Habitat loss is a major threat to its survival as the forests are disappearing in many parts of its range, which makes the shy snake enter into the human habitation where it is killed out of fear.

Adoption Scheme

In order to bolster funds and also to encourage people’s participation, Pilikula Nisargadhama has a unique scheme by which individuals, corporates and organisations can associate with the Park.

Under this scheme, you can adopt an animal such as tiger, leopard or lion for a specific period of time by paying a specified amount and the amount will be used for the upkeep of the adopted animal, like meeting the cost of food, medicine and general maintenance.

In return, the donor party’s name or  brand or company logo will be prominently displayed near the enclosure. A free entry pass for four persons will also be given to the donors so that they can visit the park at any time and view the animals in enclosure. In case of adoption of a new animal joining the park, the adopting party will also have the prerogative to name the animal after their loved ones.

As a result of the initiative the tigers have been named Raja, Vikram, Nethravathi (which has given birth to two cubs recently), Kumara, Oliver, Vinaya and Bunty. Similarly, the lions are named Siri, Bharath (only male), Victoria and Sara The park at present comprises about 1,100 animals of 110 species as against 450 animals of 70 species, just four years ago.

Exotic winged beauties

One of the new facilities at the park is the newly established aviary, spread over 25,000 square feet area and constructed at a cost of Rs 40 lakh. The aviary, which is covered with a dome-shaped chain-link mesh has already received over 50 birds of ten varieties from Nehru Zoological Park, Hyderabad, under animal exchange programme. All the birds have been housed at a walk-through aviary in the park, where bird lovers have an opportunity to have a closer view of the birds.

The birds received include Grey and Red jungle fowls, Purple Heron, White Ibis, Painted Stork, Silver Pheasant, Grey Pelican and Spoon Bills. A majority of the birds that were brought are non-predatory and fed with fish.

In exchange, the park has given four Indian Golden Jackals, three barking deers and three King Cobra to the Hyderabad zoo. There are plans to set up a butterfly park, leopard rescue centre and pavement to reach all the areas.

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