Wildlife biologist shares snake secrets on show

Gowri Shankar, featured in BBC Earth’s King Cobra and I, says his childhood played a big part in helping him develop an interest in snakes

Bengaluru-based wildlife biologist Gowri Shankar, who has been working with the king cobras for close to two decades, thinks it is a blessing that cobras are revered and worshipped in India. This, he believes, will help conserve the fast-disappearing
species. 

Founder-director of Kalinga Centre for Rainforest Ecology (KCRE), Gowri Shankar, has joined hands with Sony BBC Earth’s show ‘King Cobra and I’, as a part of Wild Wild India Anthology. The series has been designed to spread the word about “King Cobra” and Gowri helps builds familiarity around it.

Ahead of the show, which airs on Sony BBC Earth on November 22 at 9 pm, Gowri takes time off to chat with Metrolife about how he developed an interest in snakes, and the challenges involved when shooting the show.    

How did you develop an interest in cobras?

I caught my first snake when I was 13. It was during the monsoons and we had built a new house on the outskirts of Bengaluru, near KR Puram. Civilisation would end somewhere near NGEF and KR Puram those days. There was nothing but paddy fields when we started living there. A lot of keelbacks would come into the houses and I would see people killing them. When one of these came into my house, my first instinct was to not kill it. I captured it gently and helped relocate.

I always wondered why people tried to kill the snakes. Can’t we save them? These questions made me curious and I started to look at it from a different perspective. I simply wanted to do was observe their natural behaviour. However, by the time, I would reach the location the adults would have killed the snake. As I grew older, I became a rebel and grew bolder, I started rescuing them and shouting at people who tried to kill them.

Most think they are deadly. How would you describe these creatures?

I have never found snakes to be deadly. I was always intrigued by them and my curiosity to learn more about them has brought me this far. I find them fascinating, beautiful and enigmatic.

What kind of work has gone into the latest show? What were the challenges involved?

A lot of work has gone into this show. Managing the snakes in captivity and ensuring they were healthy in a new environment was a challenge. There were eight snakes that were kept in captivity for the breeding project. I would take care of them from morning to evening, which involved cleaning the enclosures, feeding and attending to the regular veterinary needs.

Do you think enough is being done to conserve cobras?

In Agumbe, the advantage is that king cobras are revered and not killed. There are several ‘Naga bana’ or sacred groves dedicated to cobras. However, people still need to be educated about the snake itself and the need for its conservation. But, in the rest of the country, the situation is grim. King cobras are killed when spotted. A lot needs to be done if we are to conserve this snake. 

Snakes are still worshipped in India. How does the West perceive it?

It is wonderful that in India snakes are revered. They are feared and killed, but seldom hated. In the West, the situation is very different.

Owing to the fact that much of the West is influenced by religions that consider snakes as an incarnation of the devil, their reputation is very low. Snakes are mostly killed as soon as they are spotted.

What has working with snakes taught you?

For as long as I can remember, snakes have been a part of my life and have had a huge influence on my work. Working with snakes has taught me patience, perseverance and presence of mind. 

 

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