Encounters of the snake variety

Encounters of the snake variety


Encounters of the snake variety

SLITHERING SNAKES A partial view of the Dr Shivaram Karanth Pilikula Biological Park

There are half a dozen cobras staring at you. The giant king cobra takes a nap while a couple of pythons lie on the floor not giving a damn about the kids calling out for them, the Green Vine snake which attracts 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 snakes... the list goes on.

We are talking about the 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.

 A Russell’s viperA mammoth collection
There are 14 king cobras in Pilikula, the largest collection in the world for cobras in captivity, informs Gerald Vikram Lobo, the Scientific Officer at the Park.
The longest king cobra in the Park measures 15 feet. In all, the Park has nearly 30 species of snakes numbering 125 (in 22 enclosures) including the seven endangered species — King Cobra, Indian Cobra, Checkered Keelback, Striped Keelback, Indian Rock Python, Rat Snake and Russell’s Viper. If you think 125 is a small number, you are wrong, as the Park authorities very frequently leave the snakes in the reserve forests in Charmadi, Someshwar and Kudremukh.

At present, three pythons have laid approximately 40 to 60 eggs each, which means that the Park will soon have approximately 120 to 180 baby pythons!  Similar is the case with cobras 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. “The most interesting aspect about the snakes in the Park is that most of the snakes including all the 14 king cobras were either rescued by the experts or found injured,” informs Park Director H Jayaprakash Bhandary.

King cobra breeding soon
Apart from the 200 feet X 30 feet state-of-the-art snake house constructed at a cost of about Rs 25 lakh, the Park authorities are constructing a separate enclosure for captive breeding of king cobra. 

“The 1,000 square feet exclusive enclosure for captive breeding of king cobra, the only one of its kind in the world, would have all the necessary biological requirement of the king cobra,” Bhandary says and adds, “So far, captive breeding of king cobra has not taken place anywhere in the world. Though a few others claim to have taken up captive breeding, there are no proper records for the same.”

“The new enclosure would be as natural as its natural habitat,” he adds and says that  captive breeding would start as soon as the construction work gets over. The Park has already installed microchips in all the 14 king cobras. All the king cobras have also been named. 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!

Habitat loss cause for concern
Considered to be the largest venomous snake in the world, capable of attaining a length of 5.5 - 6 meters, the king cobra is considered endangered in India.Habitat loss is a major threat to its survival as the forests are disappearing. This makes the shy snake enter human habitation where it is killed out of fear. One of the objectives of Pilikula Biological Park is to help increase awareness about the species and to impart this knowledge to the visiting public for the conservation of wildlife.  It is often said that “snakes are not as poisonous as human beings!” One will have to agree with that one!