The secrets of the most dangerous snake on the planet

Providing Solutions & Human-Snake Conflicts and Protecting Threatened King Cobra Populations in the Eastern Ghats of India

From 2017 to 2019, Save The Snakes supported the Eastern Ghats Wildlife Society to protect king cobra populations and to reduce human-snake conflict in South India.

Eastern Ghats Wildlife Society (EGWS) is a nonprofit organization which promotes community-based wildlife conservation in the Eastern Ghats region of South India through education, conservation-oriented research, public participation, institutional capacity building and sustainable development. It is registered under the Andhra Pradesh Societies Registration Act, 2001 with a vision to conserve the biodiversity of Eastern Ghats through harmonizing public with nature.

Project Title:
Providing Solutions for Human-Snake Conflicts and Protecting Threatened King Cobra Populations in the Eastern Ghats of India.

Eastern Ghats - Save The Snakes

Project Background:
The Eastern Ghats are a discontinuous range of mountains along India’s eastern coast. This vast landscape harbors an assortment of habitats and an incredible diversity of wildlife. The king cobra (Ophiophagus hannah), the world’s longest venomous snake, can be found in the Eastern Ghats. However, snakes have always been an object of fear and superstition in India. Each year over 46,000 people die from snakebite in India, which accounts for almost half of worldwide snakebite deaths. Rural communities in the Eastern Ghats of India are primarily poor and lack access to appropriate medical care when a snakebite occurs. The current solution for mitigating this snakebite crisis is to indiscriminately kill snakes, including king cobras, which has contributed to the species decline. Currently king cobras are listed as Vulnerable in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Such fear and persecution of snakes across the Eastern Ghats indicate a deep intolerance of snakes among local people. Moreover, increased habitat destruction from mining and unsustainable agriculture practices further threaten snake populations and a lack of appropriate conservation measures are in place to protect the biodiversity of the Eastern Ghats. Baseline data of king cobras in the Eastern Ghats is rudimentary, requiring further study to address this snake’s conservation needs before the current threats extirpate this iconic species from the region. There is an urgent need to work with communities to reduce conflict between humans and snakes that will protect the king cobra and aid in conserving the biodiversity of the Eastern Ghats.

13-Foot King Cobra Spotted in Andhra Palm Oil Plantation

Project Summary:
The EGWS organizes snake awareness workshops, media campaigns and community outreach programs in identified villages throughout the Eastern Ghats of India. These programs began in September 2016 and teach community members of the ecological importance of snakes, identification of venomous vs non-venomous snake species, precautionary measures to avoid snakebites, and first aid and treatment in the event of a snakebite.

Coupled with education and awareness programs, the EGWS implements site-specific mitigation measures which could minimize negative interactions with snakes. These include the following efforts: wearing proper footwear at night, using mosquito nets while sleeping, carrying a light while walking at night to avoid stepping on snakes, and promoting simple changes in land use management, such as removal of bushes and garbage that might provide shelter to snakes.

They train identified local individuals in rescue and rehabilitation of snakes and snakebite first aid techniques. These “para-ecologists” will also act as liaisons between local communities and wildlife authorities through regular communication on incidence of snakebites. These individuals are also able assist in field surveys to assess species distribution and contribute to snake conservation efforts.

This community-based approach is unique in the area because the EGWS aims to mitigate immediate human-induced threats to snakes by working with all the stakeholders, while simultaneously collecting scientific data to identify, as well as prioritize, critical habitats for species conservation and conflict mitigation priorities. Therefore, by devising and implementing community initiatives and education strategies, we can discover solutions that are mutually beneficial to both human and snakes. The long-term goal is that these programs in the Eastern Ghats can be replicated for implementation in other parts of the world where snakes are threatened with extinction in part due to existing conflict with humans.

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