A pet stylist by profession, Vedhapriya Ganesan (24) from Chennai is an honorary wildlife rescuer. She also rehabilitates rescued snakes and conducts awareness programmes about wildlife conservation.
When Vedhapriya Ganesan was just three years old, she found a newborn shrew (moonjur eli in Tamil) behind her anganwadi, and the mother was missing. Disturbed by the animal’s plight, she found a tailor nearby and asked him to stitch a small swing for the animal. Then, she rocked him in it like one would a human baby!
“Every day, I would go and see the moonjur to ensure it was doing well,” she says.
That was Vedhapriya’s beginning of a lifelong tryst with animals. As she grew older, her love for animals grew into compassion and a need to protect them.
A school trip to the snake park ignited a passion for snakes in this now 24-year-old woman. “That was my first trip to the snake park. We were taught about different species of snakes by Dr S R Ganesh, who is a herpetologist. I found his talk fascinating, and the reptiles, even more so,” Vedhapriya tells The Better India.
As a resident of Chennai, all weekends and holidays meant visits to the Vandalur Zoo (Arignar Anna Zoological Park), Guindy National Park, and Chennai Snake Park.
Rescuing her first snake at 16
She remembers her first rescue like it was yesterday.
There was a snake in the area where she lived. “A group of people had gathered with sticks in their hands. We used to call the forest department whenever we spotted a snake. However, they were busy that day and would take at least an hour to come to the spot at Maduravoyal. So, to prevent the onlookers from beating the snake, I lifted it,” she shares.
It was later that she realised that the snake was in fact a cobra!
Vedhapriya then decided to get proper training so that she could be better prepared for such situations. And who better to learn from than the Irulas — a tribe known for their snake-catching skills.
“The Irulas usually don’t teach this skill to others. You really need to win their trust. Since many younger Irulas are today pursuing education, they agreed to teach me. They guided me very well. I also did some professional courses in cobra rescue,” she adds.
While still in college, she started volunteering with animal welfare organisations, the Central Zoo Authority of India, Blue Cross, and Besant Memorial Animal Dispensary. She also began working with the Western Ghat Wildlife Conservation Trust (WGWCT) where she continues to work as the chief co-ordinator for Chennai and the wildlife management specialist.
As they work closely with the Tamil Nadu Forest Department, Vedhapriya is often called on for wildlife rescues. She says she has rescued more than 6,000 snakes so far and recounts a rescue where a child was stuck inside a house with a snake.
“A couple who stayed in a nearby street came running to my house one day. A snake had entered their house where their infant was playing. About 50 people were standing outside but no one was able to help the baby. When I entered the house, I was surprised to see that the snake was busy trying to eat a lizard and the baby was happily playing. I caught the snake after it ate the lizard,” she shares.
Other than snakes, the wildlife rescuer has also rescued and rehabilitated monkeys, black kites, and other birds.
“Whenever the forest department officials are busy, they ask us to go for the rescues. I also conduct training sessions for the fire department officials along with various awareness programmes,” she adds.
‘All creatures have equal rights’
There are only a few women in this field today, and Vedhapriya says that occasionally, she faces uncomfortable situations while executing rescue operations.
“One of the qualities that is needed while rescuing a snake is crowd management. We must not lose our cool or focus. The snake is already under stress; we can’t get stressed too. But in certain areas, people are very uncouth. They speak in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable. I still manage to maintain my composure and focus on the task at hand,” she adds.
It is for this composure and skill that she is widely known. N Parthiban, president of WGWCT, calls her one of the best in the field. “We work in the human-wildlife conflict area. Vedhapriya has been with us for the past eight years and excels at her work. She conducts wildlife rescues, gives them first aid, and leads awareness programmes. We work across Madurai, Pollachi, Coimbatore and Chennai,” he says.
All the work that Vedhapriya does at WGWCT and other organisations is honorary. To support her family, she works as a pet stylist.
“My goal is to help everyone understand that all creatures have equal rights. Do not hurt or kill any species,” she remarks.
If you wish to help Vedhapriya and the WGWCT with snake rescue equipment, you can contact her at 9940540921.
Edited by Pranita Bhat