Uncoiling the Menace

Posted on
06 November 2012

WWF-India’s Satpura Maikal Landscape office in Madhya Pradesh, India conducts a Snakebite Awareness Campaign

Dheeraj had a burning question, “Is it possible to suck the venom out of the body of a snakebite victim, the way they show in movies?” He was 16 years of age and hailed from Magarkatta, a remote forest village from the South Seoni Forest Division of the Central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. Dheeraj’s question was important for him, as his village lies deep in the forest corridor that connects Kanha Tiger Reserve with Pench Tiger Reserve and is two hours away from the nearest medical facility. Another old and angry farmer was convinced that nothing works when a “Naag” or cobra snake bites somebody! He had lost his brother last year to snakebite while working in his paddy field. There was chaos, loud discussions and several curious faces in the primary school building of Magarkatta. All this was happening in the Q&A session organised as part of a Snakebite Awareness Campaign in the Satpura Maikal Landscape (SML) by WWF-India.

The Bite Problem

According to a study on snakebites in India, snakes bite around one million people annually*. Out of these, approximately 46,000 die every year, mainly in the rural areas. These figures are alarming and show the magnitude of the problem that the rural populace faces in the country.

The situation is no different in the Satpura Maikal Landscape of Central India. The primary occupation of the rural people in the region is agriculture and snakebites appear to be a major occupational hazard. The main crop in the landscape is paddy which has to be transplanted during the monsoon season and is harvested around the month of October. These are the times when most of the snakebites happen in the villages. While the only way to treat a venomous snakebite is by the administration of the appropriate anti-venom serum, most often than not, the villagers rely on superstitions and alternative forms of medicines.

Uncoiling the Menace

Every year, with the onset of monsoon, there is a rise in snakebite cases in the landscape. Taking this into account, the SML team organized a snakebite awareness campaign from 18th to 23rd July across the Kanha-Achanakmar and Kanha-Pench wildlife corridors. The campaign was organized in collaboration with the Snake Research Organization, Ujjain and local snake expert from Mandla, Mr. Rajeev Gope. This campaign focused on several issues like the identification of common snakes in the area, tips on avoiding snakebites, snakebite first aid and treatment and superstitions associated with snakes among other things. During the duration of the campaign, the team travelled around 1000 km and held a series of awareness programmes in Sonkhar, Magarkatta, Patparha in the Kanha-Pench corridor as well as Rajbainda and Baila in the Kanha-Achanakmar corridor. On an average, 200 people attended each programme from the programme village as well as from the surrounding villages. The programmes included a poster exhibition that covered all aspects concerning snakes, talks by resource people, a demonstration of first aid and a Q&A session. A senior government officer of that area chaired all the events. Following the programme, handouts with information on snake identification, snakebite first aid and treatment were distributed to attendees. Informative posters were also put up in local schools, panchayats, community centers and forest department offices. The team also provided snake anti-venom vials to the primary health centers.

Through awareness campaigns like these, WWF-India seeks to separate fact from superstition and help local communities effectively deal with snakebite cases in a timely manner. In addition, it is hoped that such campaigns will also lessen the irrational fears associated with snakes and help reduce their unnecessary killing.

* Mohapatra B, Warrell DA, Suraweera W, Bhatia P, Dhingra N, et al. (2011) Snakebite Mortality in India: A Nationally Representative Mortality Survey. PLoS Negl Trop Dis 5(4): e1018. doi:10.1371/journal.pntd.0001018

For further information:
Chittaranjan Dave
Senior Landscape Coordinator, SML
M: +91 94794 61806
E: cdave@wwfindia.net

Anil Cherukupalli
Senior Communications Officer
T: +91 11 4150 4783
E: anil.cherukupalli@wwf.panda.org


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