'Over 50,000 people die every year from snakebites'

Over 50,000 people die every year from snake bites: Varad Giri

Only 20 to 30 per cent cases of snake bites reach hospitals, Dr Giri said

Representative Image. Credit: iStock Photo

More than 50,000 people die annually of snakebites in India and the majority of the incidents are because of human mistakes, says Dr Varad Giri, a senior scientist with the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS).

Dendrelaphis girii or Giri's bronzeback tree snake, is named after Dr Giri, who is considered an expert on snakes and has worked extensively in the Western Ghats.  

“It is an estimation that more than 50,000 people die of snake bites in the country… it also needs to be understood that only 20 to 30 per cent cases of snake bites reach hospitals,” said Dr Giri.

India is home to 330 species of snakes of which 65 are venomous.

“Among the 65 species of venomous snakes, four of them, the Indian Cobra (Naja naja), Common Krait (Bungarus caeruleus), Russell’s Viper (Daboia russelii) and Saw-scaled Viper (Echis carinatus), stay in proximity of human settlements, and are responsible for majority of the deaths,” he said.

Often, these are referred to as the “Big Four” and are responsible for the majority of the deaths – which continue to be a major medical concern in India.

Stressing on the need for education about snakes, he said: “We need to educate people through public science. Our understanding of any subject governs our reactions. We are afraid of snakes due to a lack of knowledge. Let us understand them.”

Dr Giri, a researcher par excellence, herpetologist, explorer and conservationist, stressed on the understanding and conservation of snakes while conducting BNHS-run twin weekend courses – ‘Understanding Snakes’ and ‘Snake Taxonomy’.

According to him, it needs to be understood that there is an effective treatment for snake bites and many lives could be saved.

The Snake Venom Anti Serum (ASVS) are available in hospitals and in case of a suspected snake bite, the person has to be rushed to hospital. “Immediately take the snakebite patient to the nearest hospital, strictly avoid any local therapy or witchcraft, use any available mode of transport or ambulance and tell the doctors about the symptoms,” he said.

Dr Giri also expressed concern over the snake rescuers using live snakes to tell stories.

“They catch snakes and display them in public and teach people… they are nothing but another form of snake charmers… When you speak and tell someone about a tiger or elephant, do you take a live tiger or elephant?

"So why a snake? Never use live snakes for awareness. Never make videos of your rescue, it is not needed…no stunts…as it endangers the safety of others and some people try those stunts and die because of snakebite.”