Home to the King cobra

Home to the King cobra

The Western Ghats, the long range of mountains that runs north–south along the western coastline of peninsular India is endowed with some of the most breathtaking hills and valleys.  A fair part of these ranges lies in western Karnataka. As a barrier between the sea coast and the plains, these mountains get most of the rain resulting in a dense growth of plant life. 

Agumbe, a quaint little town that sits on the fringes of the Ghats overlooking the coastal plains, gets not only the second highest rainfall of about 8,000 mm in the country, but also abounds in a variety of plants and animals, many of which are rare and some endemic to this region. The density of forests, the topography of the area and the suitability of weather conditions have all made it conducive to different species of snakes, particularly the King cobra which is the longest venomous snake in the world.

As an important link in the food chain, a healthy presence of King cobras speaks of the health of the forest itself thereby necessitating the need to protect, conserve and know more about them. It is little wonder that this place was chosen by eminent herpetologist Romulus Whitaker to be the centre for study and research on the snake as also the jungles that abound here popularly. The snakeman of India had indeed caught the very first King cobra here way back in 1971 and had developed an affinity for the place.
His dream of starting a research station could be realised only in 2005 when the money left by his mother came in handy to buy a piece of land. Later when his pioneering work in conservation of snakes and reptiles elsewhere fetched him the Award of the Whitley Foundation,UK, Rom put back all the money into the project and the Agumbe Rainforest Research Station came into being.
Today, it is a full-fledged centre on 4.27 acres of forest with a small dedicated team pursuing the study on King cobras. Apart from that, the ARRS, with its compact library and moderate facilities, serves as a good base for researchers, scholars and students for their work  related to rainforest.  

Radio Telemetry 

As the flagship species of the area, a need was felt to study the lifestyle and behaviour of the King cobra so that its population could be maintained at a healthy level.

With this objective in  mind, the Radio Telemetry project on King cobras, the first in the world, was started  here in March 2008. The process involves catching the snake, administering a suitable dose of anaesthetic by a veterinarian, inserting the tiny radio transmitter into its body and releasing into the wild.

The signals emitted by the transmitter can reach upto a distance of 300 metres. As the snake moves around, the tracker along with the receiver keeps moving ensuring the signals are not lost.
The King cobra being a diurnal reptile, settles down into a proper place for rest by evening which indirectly is an advantage for the tracker lest he should be scrambling around in the jungles through the night !

The process of tracking lasts from early morning till evening and during this time the tracker with the help of a local person monitors the movements. Hourly readings are taken, with details like the number of beeps per minute, the air and ground temperature, humidity and windspeed, all of which contribute to the understanding of its behaviour.

The tracker generally keeps at least 50 metres away so as not to disturb its movements. Presently at ARRS, two snakes have been implanted with transmitters and  readings are being tabulated for two years.

Contribution to local community

Apart from the systematic monitoring of  King cobras and the scientific study of rainforests, the ARRS has been rendering yeoman’s service to the local community in more ways than one.
Duly involving the villagers who respect the snake, the team at ARRS under Gowrishankar, the Conservation Officer, has created awareness among the folk to ensure the snakes are not killed impulsively but rescued and released into the wild. Gowrishankar, himself a snake enthusiast, has so far rescued and relocated more than a hundred King cobras and released nearly 200 hatchlings into the wild.

While nature camps conducted for children educate them about the facts, the programmes organised for forest officials, police and anti-Naxal squad prepares them well for venturing into the forests.

The research station also has many upcoming projects like surveys on lion-tailed macaques, giant squirrels, study of termite mounds, soil and monsoon besides Sithanadi river restoration.
This self-contained research station, which runs on alternate energy of solar power and a mini hydel in monsoons, is indeed a noteworthy effort in the field of environment and conservation.

Contact for more details: 08181-223081 arrs.india@gmail.com

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