Tuesday , 24 April 2018

Living with Pythons

Herpetologist and wildlife photographer Nirmal Kulkarni has launched a new initiative ‘Living with Pythons’ where he will create awareness about this enchanting snake species and why we need to conserve them

‘Living with Pythons’ is a nationwide initiative kick started with the start of 2017 by herpetologist and wildlife photographer Nirmal Kulkarni, to create awareness and instil appreciation about India’s three python species. These include the Indian Rock Python (Python molurus), Burmese Python (Python bivittatus) and Reticulated python (Malayopython reticulatus).

Speaking about this initiative Nirmal says: “My interest in pythons was fueled due to the large number of rescues I did of these species from homes as well as from snake charmers in my formative years as a snake handler. Further on whilst working at the Katraj Snake Park and the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust, these snakes held me in awe for their sheer size as well as strength.

Reading about pythons in tales and anecdotal references across wildlife books, scientific literature and notes by naturalists became an unconsciously pursued passion. This initiative was the result of a 20-minute chat with mentor and guide Romulus Whitaker, whose own work on pythons continues till date. Rom does that to you always… plants seeds of enterprise and fuels this get-up-and-do-something craving that seldom others can whip up for sure.”

Elaborating on these three non-venomous snakes Nirmal confirms that these snakes represent some of the largest snake species of the world. While the Reticulated python is now acknowledged as one of the largest snakes in the world, the Burmese python is a near threatened species in its range in Burma. Illegal skin trade and habitat loss have taken a heavy toll and one ray of hope is forest of North East India where few populations survive.

The species found in Goa and across the Indian mainland commonly, The Indian Rock python has been now accepted as threatened due to human reptile conflict and habitat loss.

This initiative aims to thus promote acceptance, awareness and understanding about these python species through conservation outreach and field based herpetology techniques.

This initiative will operate from a conversation hub in Nachinola. But will travel across the country and also collaborate with local partners across the country. They will have field discussions, engagements with communities, youth and Forest Department personnel.

This project will also contribute to creating awareness on the issue of human-snake conflicts that are key to python survival in human dominated rural and urban landscapes.

“The habitat destruction, road kills, killing due to fear and superstition in some rural areas in the hinterlands,” Nirmal states the reasons for the decline in the species of rock python in Goa.

However, Nirmal confirms that the situation currently is better. “But the situation is definitely far better than what it was a decade ago thanks to the combined work of the Forest department as well as snake rescuers. There is now need for acceptance for these snakes in the areas where they exist – urban as well as rural landscapes. That is the need of the hour,” says Nirmal.

This initiative will also work on target group of reptile enthusiasts and amateur snake handlers and rescuers in the states of Goa, Karnataka and Maharashtra to sensitise them about these ecologically important species.

Beside this, the initiative proposes to address a need for a common protocol for python rescue and release, as it will help minimise and address issues relating reptile-human conflict and provide vital answers to this growing challenge especially in urban India.

On a concluding note when asked about the role of rock python in ecology and the need to protect it, Nirmal says: “Pythons are also at the apex of food chains and play a major role in keeping in check small mammal and rodent populations. Young as well as adult pythons also keep a check on rodents, birds, etc in an ecosystem and at the same time they are prey to raptors as well as carnivorous mammals themselves.”

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