In Bangladesh, Fear Drives Headline-Making Spate of Snake Killings

Snakes are killed in rural Bangladesh when they are found in human habitat. Image from Flickr by Vipez. CC: BY-NC-ND 2.0

July 16th was World Snake Day, a day to celebrate the reptiles and raise awareness about their conservation. Bangladesh is one place where snakes might need a little more care, because according to media reports, there's a snake killing spree in the northeast and southeast regions of the country due to popular fears of the animal as well as a lack of specialized rescuers on staff in local governments.

Recently, these regions have seen an increase in snake sightings, leading to news headlines like “12 cobras found inside fast food shop”, “Snake pit with 125 cobras found in a Rajshahi kitchen”, and “116 cobras found in Kushtia”. In most of these cases, the people in these rural areas of the country have resorted to killing the snakes found inside their homes or other establishments.

There have also been more snake bites, and according to reports, the local farmers in certain rural areas are refusing to work in the field as the number of snake bites have risen. A local volunteer organization distributed some rubber boots to mitigate their fears.

Dr Monirul H Khan, an associate professor of zoology at Jahangirnagar University, said in an interview with Dhaka Tribune that snakes are already known for settling near human habitats because of the prevalence of rats near homes. Snakes also breed during monsoon season, so it's not surprising that people are seeing more of them. Each snake can lay up to 50 eggs, and the recent snake killings have mostly been people killing baby snakes.

Experts say that due to intense floods in the past few years, many poisonous snakes migrated from neighboring India to Bangladesh and they are taking refuge in human habitats, especially village homes built with mud and bamboos. The local government hospitals have asked for more supplies of anti-venom as snake bite cases have increased, but no deaths from snake bites has been reported.

The truth is that most snake species in Bangladesh aren't poisonous, and as the president and founding member of the Wildlife Conservation Team of Bangladesh, Mohammad Quamruzzaman Babu, reminded, snakes help in agriculture as they help minimize the population of plant-eating rats, and there will be disruptions in the ecosystem if snake populations are diminished.

Banner via Facebook page Snakes of Bangladesh

Snake conservation and awareness Facebook page Snakes of Bangladesh shared an article by Abdur Razzaque, a researcher of Dhaka University, on why people are killing snakes:

বিগত কয়েকেদিন যাবৎ দৈনিক খবরের কাগজে প্রায় চার শতাধিক এর বেশি সাপ মারার সংবাদ এসেছে। এবছরেই যে মানুষ এতবেশি সংখ্যক মেরেছে তা নয়। প্রতি বছর হাজার হাজার সাপ মানুষ মেরে ফেলছে। [..] আমাদের দেশে প্রায় ৯০ প্রজাতির সাপের মধ্যে প্রায় ২৭ প্রজাতির বিষাক্ত এবং বাকিগুলো অবিষাক্ত সাপ। কিন্তু মানুষের কাছে সাপ মানেই আতঙ্কের নাম, সেটি বিষাক্ত হোক কিংবা অবিষাক্ত। [..] সাপ দেখলেই মারতে হবে ব্যাপারটা এখন আমরা শুধু বংশপরম্পরায় নয় বরং যেন জেনেটিকালি বহন করে বেরাচ্ছি। যে প্রাণিটি মানুষ এত ভয় পায় সেটি প্রকৃতিতে থাকার কোন কি দরকার আছে? কিন্তু বিজ্ঞান বলছে, প্রাকৃতিক ভারসাম্য বজায় রাখতে, খাদ্য শৃঙ্খল অটুট রাখতে এদের দরকার আছে। [..]

সাপ প্রকৃতিতে যেসব পরিবেশে থাকতো সেগেুলো আমরা নিজেদের প্রয়োজরে ধ্বংস করে ফেলেছি এবং প্রতি বছর ব্যাপকহারে সাপ মারার কারণে প্রাকৃতিক পরিবেশে এখন খুব কম সাপ দেখা যায়। [..] সাপ খাবারের প্রয়োজনে, প্রজননের সুবির্ধার্থে বর্ষাকালে মানুষের আবাসস্থলে ঢুকে পড়ছে। [..] বসতবাড়িতে সাপ ঢুকলে মানুষ না মেরে কি করবে? কেননা দেশে সাপ উদ্ধারকারী দক্ষ লোক নেইে। আর উদ্ধার করলেও, এগুলোর দায়ভার কেউ নিতে চান না।

In recent weeks we have read reports of the killing of more than 400 snakes in several districts. This is unfortunately not out of the ordinary. Each year people in our country kill thousands of snakes. […] There are more than 90 species of snakes in our country and only 27 from them are venomous. But for common people a snake is a fearful animal irrespective of being venomous or non-venomous. […] It seems we carry this notion genetically that whenever we see a snake we have to kill it to save us and our families. People fear this animal so much. So do they deserve to live? Science says snakes are vital to the ecosystem, and they act as natural pest-killers. […]

The natural habitats of snakes are being destroyed by humans for their own need. Each year more and more snakes are being killed and their population is decreasing. […] During monsoon season they sneak into human habitats for breeding and food. […] When people find snakes nesting in their homes, what should they do when there are not enough snake catchers or preservationists? Even if the snakes are rescued, there are no facilities to keep these snakes and nobody wants to take responsibility.

Razzaque also suggested that organizing a volunteer team of snake catchers in the localities could save these snakes. A member of this Facebook community Borhan Biswas Romon reported:

Today we rescued 17 cutie cobra babies and a matured female Spectacled cobra from a villagers house, location, Poba Rajshahi.

Children play with a captured baby snake. Image from Flickr by Vipez. CC: BY-NC-ND 2.0

State Minister for Foreign Affairs Shahriar Alam expressed concerns over the killings of snakes in a Facebook post:

কয়েকদিন থেকে দেখছি রাজশাহী থেকে শুরু করে বাংলাদেশের আনাচে কানাচে সাপ খুজে খুজে মারা হচ্ছে। প্রায় সব পত্রিকা সেটা গ্রহণযোগ্য ভাবে প্রচার করছে। না বুঝে নতুন করে মানুষ সাপ মারতে উৎসাহিত হচ্ছে। এইসব জায়গার কোথাওই সাপেড় কামড়ে সম্প্রতি কেউ মারা গেছেন তাও শোনা যায়নি। কিন্তু তবুও চলছে সাপ মারা। [..]

ঝুঁকি মনে হলে বাসায় কার্বলিক এসিড রাখবেন। খুব সমস্যা মনে হলে সাপ ধরে (গ্রামে সাপ ধরার মানুষ পাওয়া যায়) বন বিভাগ বা প্রাণী বিভাগে দিয়ে দিবেন কিন্তু অযথা মেরে নতুন বিপদ ডেকে আনবেন না দয়া করে।

I am concerned that in recent weeks snakes are being killed in different parts of the country, including Rajshahi. The mainstream media is spreading the news with enthusiasm. This is leading to more people being interested in killing these animals. However, nobody has heard that these snakes have killed anybody. And the indiscriminate killing is still going on. […]

If you think snakes are a risk, keep carbolic acid (as a deterrent) in homes. If snakes nesting at home seems to be a problem, catch them (with the help of snake charmers) and hand them over to the forest or zoology department. But don't create new problems deciding to kill them by yourselves.

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