Save snakes to save nature

Rohit Giri uses photographs to capture the audience’s attention and share his knowledge of snakes.

Unlike those who recoil from the sight of venomous snakes, Rohit Giri thinks these increasingly endangered cold-blooded reptiles need to be protected.

At an age when his friends would either run away from snakes or try to kill them with sticks, Giri was fascinated by these creatures that used to slither around in the fields near his home in Pokhara.

He thinks his obsession with snakes started with watching National Geographic documentaries endlessly on cable tv. Once a snake was spotted in a neighbour’s garden and there was panic in the locality, but the 14-year-old calmly hooked the snake with the end of a stick took hold of the squirming reptile and released it into nearby bushes.

It was a green pit viper, and the young boy’s courage became the talk of the neighbourhood. For Giri, it was the beginning of a strong bond with the animals that have religious and cultural importance in Nepal. Since then he has been summoned to rescue more than 700 snakes.

“At that moment, I was thrilled to be holding this amazing creature,” recalls Giri, who is now 22, and like the shy creatures he handles, hides behind his hoodie almost like he is trying to stay undercover. “The best part was, he was not afraid of me either. He was just curious.”

Residents of Kaski and surrounding districts call him up several times a day when there is a snake in the vicinity that needs to be removed and rescued. Sub-tropical Pokhara Valley with its many hollows and boulders is an ideal habitat for snakes. Rohit is among a handful of snake rescuers in the country, and always has a snake hook and bag ready

In March to July, when snakes are more out and about than usual, he usually rescues five to ten snakes a day. Giri comes across as a quiet, withdrawn man, but he is fearless when it comes to snakes, even if they are the deadly vipers, or king cobra.

Just watching a video of how he hooks a writhing snake and shoves it into his bag is chilling enough. But to think that Giri is risking his life every time he catches a snake to save it shows his extreme motivation to the task.

“It’s not that I am fearless. I take calculated risks. Knowledge is the key. If you know the type of species you are rescuing, you can decide accordingly. Different snakes behave differently,” explains Giri.

The first instinct with most people is to kill a snake, but Giri says that is because the creatures are misunderstood by many. Indeed, snakes get a bad press and snake-like attributes are used to describe humans who are cruel, untrustworthy, or slimy.

“Snakes are labelled as dark and uncharismatic, which has caused confusion about these beautiful creatures. I want to be able to change that,’’ Giri says.

On his many rescue missions, he makes it a point to explain the value of snakes in maintaining the ecological balance of nature.

“Snakes play an important role in the food chains in ecosystems. Areas where snakes are removed often have a population explosion of rodents, and it affects agriculture,” says Giri, who has YouTube videos in which he counsels people about saving snakes. “When people are made aware of the relation of the reptiles to the ecosystem, they prefer to having them removed rather than killing them.”

An undergraduate student of biology at Prithvi Narayan Campus, Rohit Giri uses Instagram, YouTube and Facebook to raise awareness and document his rescue missions. His photographs, videos and research papers on snake conservation have encouraged others to walk the same wild terrain.

But he has a note of caution: “I don’t want to influence people to do something that they are not equipped to do. There have been instances when people have lost lives while trying to imitate snake handling for the sake of showmanship. That is very risky.”

Giri is a loner, and enjoys being in nature by himself. He says he is not after fame, and had to be cajoled into agreeing to do this profile. His drive for conservation is purely led by his compassion for the species.

“Snakes are so striking because they are so seemingly unperturbed about everything around them,” he says. “It is just a creature being itself, a pure soul. It doesn’t know that it is so earnestly hated and loved. Which is why I love them.”

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