Goa-based herpetologist Nirmal Kulkarni has started the initiative “Living with Pythons” to create awareness about pythons and to create a network of rescuers and researchers to collate data on the current status of the species.
Indian pythons are beautiful, large creatures that often face an existential threat from terrified humans. In reality, pythons are non-venomous and do not harm humans unless provoked. However, the misconceptions and lack of knowledge on people’s part leads to mindless killing of pythons.
“For centuries, humans and pythons have existed in close proximity to each other in harmony. It is because of the misconceptions in people’s minds that these absolutely harmless animals are being hunted and poached. We need to change that,” says Nirmal Kulkarni, who has started the initiative “Living with Pythons” to spread awareness about Indian pythons.
Through his initiative, the Goa-based herpetologist and wildlife photographer wants to create awareness and instil appreciation among people about India’s three Python species, Indian Rock Python (Python molurus), Burmese Python (Python bivittatus) and Reticulated python (Malayopython reticulatus).
“If you ask anyone which is the largest snake, you’d hear them say anaconda. But how many of us know that the Reticulated Python found in the Northeast India and Nicobar islands is now acknowledged as the largest snakes in the world? We need to take some effort to spread awareness. The Burmese Python is a near-threatened species in its range in Burma (Myanmar). Python population is thinning due to illegal skin trade and habitat loss. We need to know the numbers, so we can do something about it,” says Nirmal.
Nirmal launched the initiative in January this year and has two objectives. Besides creating awareness, he also wants to collate information on the python population in the country.
“All python species are categorised as Schedule 1 species under the Wildlife Protection Act, which means that they are given equal protection as tigers are given.They were put under the endangered species’ list in 1971. As of now, we don’t really know whether they are endangered or not, since there’s no data available on the python population,” says Nirmal.
Through this initiative, Nirmal aims to collect as much information as possible about pythons in India. When asked if it’s possible to calculate the number of pythons through this initiative, Nirmal cites a peculiar characteristic of the pythons.
“Pythons are unique in the sense that the head region as well as the tail of the python is individualistic. It is like a fingerprint; no two pythons have the same pattern on their heads and tails. Therefore, it is possible to identify one python from the other and that’s what makes me positive about being able to actually calculate the python population,” says Nirmal.
Nirmal’s team is also developing a software application for the same purpose. Anyone who spots a python will be able to upload a picture to contribute to a centralised database on pythons.
In the meanwhile, Nirmal and his team are reaching out to several wildlife enthusiasts, NGOs working in the wildlife conservation space, state forest departments as well as educational institutions. He is also looking at tapping into the network of snake rescuers to help in the process of awareness creation.The initiative is employing different methods like on-field discussions, informative presentations and seminars as well as engagements with communities, youth, and Forest Department personnel.
While raising the funding required for an initiative on such a huge scale is one of the biggest challenges facing Nirmal, another problem along the way is following the timeline.
“To be able to record the python population, they need to be spotted first. In the Northeast India, they are spotted in the months of April and May, before and around the arrival of the monsoon. On the other hand, in the Western Ghats, most sightings are recorded in the months of June to August. So the key is that our initiative should reach different parts of India before the respective time of the sightings to have maximum impact,” he says.
Not dwelling on the hurdles, Nirmal is trying to promote his initiative through his Facebook page and seminars. Many people have started responding already, he says. He hopes for the response to increase and wishes for the initiative to promote acceptance, awareness and understanding about pythons.
To know more about Living with Pythons, visit the Facebook page here.