16 Dec 2021

This November, I completed a year of staying in the Netherlands. However to my surprise, the flatlands did not make me homesick. But when I think of it, I do miss one crucial aspect of my life back home in India. I miss the snakes! I miss getting called to rescue one! And I miss the hiss of the ‘Spectacled Cobra’ and the pressure cooker-like cry of the ‘Russell’s Viper.’

Add the ‘Krait’ and the ‘Saw-scaled Viper’ to the above two and you have the deadly ‘Big Four’ that kill about 50,000 Indians every year and, as mentioned by the Vox editor Annemarie Haverkamp in her article for AD, sometimes they get men by the penis.

Though I say I miss snakes, I do not fancy coming face to face with one of those species, having shared endless moments of panic with them. Each species comes with its own distinct temperament, and in most cases is already pissed off by the stupid antics of the first person to spot it.

The harmless little crawler tries to escape and ends up getting trapped inside a house, a parked vehicle or junk and the snake-rescuer signs up to deal with the worst! The otherwise submissive creature is now on the offensive, or more accurately: defensive.

I have had to deal with numerous traumatic situations, which I am reminded of every time an emergency vehicle zooms past me in the Netherlands. No, I have never been bitten by a venomous friend, but I have witnessed a fellow rescuer or onlooker getting the deadly bite.

Once bitten, there are two immediate consequences. The snake slithers into the closest hiding spot and the first evident symptom on the victim is enormous sweating. But that could also be a case of panic attack. It’s a tricky situation.

The doctor cannot administer a dose of anti-venom until someone confirms whether or not the culprit is poisonous. Otherwise they will choose to wait for the symptoms to show. And it goes without saying that it really helps to know the species; to be able to identify if it’s venomous or not.

This is a tough task in my country which has some 350 species of snakes. Even though only four of them have the real capacity to cause deaths, not every layman can identify them as each species comes with their own colors and patterns. Identifying one on the basis of a quick glance or the description provided by a victim or an eyewitness is a difficult proposition.

Thus, the job of a snake-rescuer also involves identifying and reporting back the species accurately when required. Of course, the primary responsibility is to safely rescue and release the snake back into a habitable landscape away from humans.

I can say one thing for sure. Here in the Netherlands, I have no such worries given the four harmless species that share the flatlands with humans. An encounter with one is not only rare, it’s next to impossible. And I’m glad for that.

Still, I do miss the hiss and the tongue poking out, warning: “leave me alone!”

Read Reuben Malekar's blogs here

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