Hundreds of snake die a slow painful death during the festival of Nagpanchami when snake charmers capture them. Since watching a snake is considered auspicious, snake charmers make money out of it. But little do we know about the painful conditions these snakes are kept in. Here is an organization helping snakes break free from the misery.
Nagpanchami is a festival celebrated all over India, where people worship the Snake God. A variety of rituals and prayers are conducted in temples and homes, and the devout pray for wellness, wealth or for off springs. During the run up to the main festival it is a common sight to see snake charmers outside temples or at prominent places carrying snakes in wicker baskets.
Seeing a snake during this period is considered extremely auspicious and people usually offer money to the charmer and milk to the snake.
“What most of us do not know is that these snakes are caught by snake catchers almost a month before and sold to the snake charmer after they brutally remove the fangs and sometimes even cut off the venom sac. The mouths of the snakes are invariably stitched, to make it convenient for them to be carried around by the charmers,” says Avinash Vishvanathan, the General Secretary of Friends of Snakes Society, Hyderabad.
The absence of its venom apparatus and severe infection resulting from its injuries, results in the snake being unable to eat its natural prey or even drink water.
Caution: Graphic images below
Thus, when gullible people offer it milk, it appears to drink very little due to extreme thirst and hunger. It may be interesting to know that in natural conditions, snakes do not drink milk neither can they digest it properly.
By the time Nagpanchami is over, the snake is extremely weak, severely infected and the snake charmer, after making his money, just throws the snake away, thereby letting it die a very slow and painful death.
“Just a couple of days before Nagpanchami, volunteers start scanning buses and trains to identify snake charmers smuggling in snakes and arrest them with the help of the local Police and the Forest Dept officials. The confiscated snakes are taken to the groups facility where each basket is opened carefully, the poor mutilated snake is gently taken out and the stitches on the mouth are cut very carefully, under the guidance of a veterinary doctor. By this time usually so much infection is set in around the stitches and inside the mouth of the cobra, that the whole area is usually swollen with lots of puss oozing,” continues Avinash.
“Once the mouth is opened, all the infection is cleaned and the cobra is allowed to rest in one of the large boxes in the facility. Over the next few days we have to keep a close watch on each and every animal and regularly clean their mouths. Clean water is provided to them and once their oral sores get better they are provided with feed.”
– Prahlad, a volunteer at Friends of Snakes Society, Hyderabad.
“After 3 or 4 weeks these creatures slowly show signs of having regained their ability to fend for themselves. We take the animals in batches to the outskirts of the city, with permission from the forest department, and release them in the wild. Till a few years ago, we used to deal with over 200 snakes after the Nagpanchami festival. Over the past 5 years there has fortunately been a fall in the number of snakes, with us having to deal with around 70 snakes last year,” says Rajiv Menon, the President of the Society.
Fortunately, over the years, with concerted efforts in creating awareness and pro-active action by animal welfare and wildlife groups in various parts of the country, there has been a discernible decrease in the number of snakes being exploited by these charmers.
One sincerely hopes that this further reduces and a day will come when for Nagpanchami, no snake has to undergo any torture by humans.