People have long looked at snakes with a mixture of fear and awe. Snakes are symbols of divinity, rebirth, guardianship, and even carry the weight of the dichotomy of good and evil.
But ironically, our instincts scream, “Kill it!” every time we chance upon a snake.
For 60-year-old Vidya Raju, the same instincts shout, “Save it!”
The snake rescuer and rehabilitator has always held the opinion, quite correctly, that snakes are seriously misunderstood creatures.
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“People who kill them have no idea about the importance of snakes in our ecosystem. Snakes tend to get defensive and react aggressively. Perhaps the seeds of wanting to do something for snakes were sown when, as a young girl, I saw people kill snakes. It left a profound impact on my mind.”
The Bihar-native has been rescuing snakes and other smaller birds and animals for two decades. The energetic grandmother currently lives with her retired husband, Commodore NVS Raju, in Kochi.
Recalling the first time she rescued a snake, Vidya says, “It was in 2002, I think,” she goes on, “My husband was posted in Goa, and I was a volunteer with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). One of the volunteers often spoke about rescuing reptiles, and that piqued my interest. I requested to be called for the next reptile rescue operation. I remember holding a viper snake in my hand and feeling no fear,” she smiles.
With her husband in a transferable job, the couple called many cities their home and through it all, Vidya’s work of animal rescue did not abate. “I worked closely with the locals and the forest department wherever I went. I also researched and read up a lot about the various kinds of snakes – venomous and non-venomous ones,” she says.
The self-trained rescuer started with saving the snakes that came to her locality from time to time and so far, she has rescued almost 1000 snakes, most of which were non-venomous.
It is a constant learning process, whether to take the head first or the tail. The trick is to stay calm, sensing aggression or fear in you will instantly alert the snake as well.
The wildlife rescuer is currently volunteering with the Cochin Natural History Society (CNHS).
Furthermore, her skills and dedication for rescuing snakes and the recognition she was getting was of great help during the 2018 Kerala floods. Whenever people in the city sighted snakes in their homes, they would call her, and there were times when she would get two to three calls daily.
Vidya is indebted to her husband, daughter, and son for their support in her pursuit to save animals. “I have been able to respond to the calls because there is always someone willing to come along; no matter what time of the day or night it is, one of them ferries me while someone else helps pack my bag,” she says.
Like all doting grandmothers, she speaks with utter delight of her grandson, who is equally passionate about dogs and cats.
He is the happiest when dogs surround him, she says.
Upon being asked if age or gender ever came in the way of her work, she laughs, “Absolutely not, and I see no reason why it should either. One does not have to be a male to be a rescuer; all one needs is the presence of mind and a love for animals. As for age – it’s merely a number.”
Vidya leaves us with some valuable pointers on how to inculcate the love for animals in our children.
1. Importance of nature clubs
Remember that you cannot teach children about nature by sitting inside a classroom – so step out and explore. It is vital to get our children acquainted with the environment they live in. Let the children learn to explore their surroundings.
2. Understand how food grows
Let your children learn how their food grows; they will appreciate it more if they know. Encourage them to help you with gardening. This has to be a hands-on experience and cannot be learnt by reading or watching a presentation.
3. Spend time outdoors
One does not have to go all the way to a bird sanctuary to learn and appreciate winged creatures. Step out of your own homes, and you will find a treasure trove of birds around. Start by identifying and learning about them. Get them to listen to the different sounds that these birds make.
“If you start teaching your children to love nature from an early age, chances are that in a class of 30 students, at least 1 or 2 might develop an interest and pursue this field. Your life is important so is the life of another creature – that is the only way to maintain ecological balance,” says Vidya.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)