An encounter with a snake

Very few people know about my deep interest in snakes, bordering on obsession since my childhood. Although, I have never handled snakes, it was my dream to become a herpetologist inspired by a legend called Romulus Whitaker. He is the brain behind Madras Crocodile Bank, Chennai Snake Park and Agumbe Rainforest Research Station (a permenant field station for research on King Cobra).

It spooked my parents without doubt, and my dad took me in my 11th grade to meet Rom at a book release function in Chennai. It was definitely a fan-boy moment to meet him in-person. Long story short, I ended up studying engineering for completely different set of reasons. But that didn’t stop me from admiring snakes in awe, and I consider myself very fortunate to attend his talks at IISc. He collaborates with IISc’s Center for Ecological Sciences on snake venomics.

I still make it a point to break the stigma generally associated with these magnificent reptiles wherever possible, and opportunity presented itself when a cobra visited our house and it was captured on video. This is my humble attempt to detail the exact sequence of events when my parents encountered the snake in Chennai. The general reaction especially in an urban environment is to kill the snake, but I felt it was prudent to document this incident as an example on how to handle the situation. Hats-off to my parents for doing this.

A vistor to our house was at the gate, when he noticed a snake crawl underneath the car towards the wall. One can observe the snake crawl between the car and the bench (near the side view mirror of the car) at around 06 second mark in the video. It was a blink or a miss moment and if not for him, the snake would have probably gone unnoticed.

The snake then hid itself in a sump close to the entrance. While it was being watched, the forest department snake catchers in Chennai were contacted and a ranger/rescuer attended the call within 45 minutes. The ranger rescued the snake, which was released back in the wild. We think the snake could have come from a small rivulet-cum-sewage that flows behind the house, and where there plenty of rats. This whole episode happened around 0730pm, typically the time snakes come out in search of food. One can even observe a bulge in its belly, indicating that the snake probably just had its meal. Sometimes snakes regurgitate their food when under stress, inorder to escape from its predator. Credit where it is due, the snake rescuer carefully bagged the snake without stressing an already agitated snake.

This is a classic example of human-animal conflict and I hope the such calls are handled without harming the snake. Based on this experience, the following are the steps that can be followed when a snake is encountered.

  1. Identify where the snake is hiding and keep a watch over it to ensure its location. Do not handle or provoke the snake. Snakes prefer to stay away from humans and will not attack unless it cornered or provoked.
  2. Contact the forest department as soon as possible. In this case, we contacted the Forest Range Office in Chennai at 044-22200335. The Tamil Nadu Fire and Rescue Service can also be contacted at 101 for snake rescue (Reference).
  3. Wait till the person arrives and monitor the movement of the snake if it is already moving. It is easier for the snake catcher to catch the animal if the location is known. This reduces time in searching for the snake and less chances of being bitten while searching.
  4. Last but not the least, do not injure or kill a snake. They are beautiful creatures and keep rat populations at bay. If not for human encroachments or garbage pile up (inviting rats), the snakes would probably mind their own business and go away, reducing the chances of human interactions.

This is a handout by Madras Crocodile Bank on how to prevent a snake bite.


A beautiful video on how a snake rescue should be carried out by Madras Crocodile Bank.

Other resources on snake bite mitigation can be found here

Co-exist and peace!


26/05/2021 - The Science of Pressure Cooker