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Meet the Nepalese man on a dangerous mission to save poisonous snakes

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Most people associate snakes with danger. They consider snakes to be venom-spitting creatures that can put an adult human on a deathbed in minutes. Children grow up learning to fear and hate snakes. Many also consider eliminating snakes as the best approach to staying safe. However, a young man from Pokhara, Nepal is on a mission to change people’s perception of snakes. For him, snakes are friends to be loved and protected. Traveling across his country, Rohit Giri educates people to stop killing snakes and save the lives of snakes and people with his rescue missions.

Rohit Giri with a rescued king cobra snake as villagers watch him handle the snake.

Snakes have enchanted me since my early childhood when I watched them for hours slithering through the fields and bushes near my home“said Giri, who saved her first snake when she was 12.

It was in my neighbor’s garden and it scared everyone. So I just picked it up with a stick and released it in the bushes outside the house.“, says Giri.

green viper
A magnificent green viper in the forests of Nepal. Photo credit: Rohit Giri.

It was only after the rescue that he realized the snake was nothing but a poisonous green adder. But at that moment, the deed was done. The serpent’s beauty and grace had seduced Giri, who was now even more determined to protect these reptilians from the humans’ wrath.

copper-headed trinket snake
Rohit Giri rescuing a copper-headed trinket snake from the kitchen of a village house in Nepal.

Now, over a decade later, Giri attends over 50 rescue calls per month and has helped save over 700 snakes. His damsels in distress include all kinds of snake species, from the non-venomous rat snake to the king of all snakes, the powerful and highly venomous king cobra!

“In 2017 I rescued a king cobra for the first time, and what an exhilarating experience it wassighed Giri as she described the most exciting rescue of her life to date.

It was in the middle of winter when Giri received a call to save a snake from a village. Seeing the photos captured on mobile, Giri identified it as a king cobra. He knew he didn’t have enough equipment to secure the world’s longest poisonous snake, one whose venom can kill nearly 20 people or an elephant with a single bite. Yet he went to the village with his brother just to catch a glimpse of the snake he grew to admire.

Upon visiting the site, however, he was shocked. Villagers were throwing stones at the snake found about 10m from a house. Even though he was unprepared, Giri couldn’t tolerate the sight of the majestic being suffering a gruesome death. Using a stick and five burlap sacks piled on top of each other to stop the king from biting, Giri set out on this near impossible mission. However, with the help of his brother, he managed to secure the snake. Unfortunately, the stones had already injured the king and he had to be sent to a rescue center for treatment, where he ultimately did not survive.

king cobra
Rohit Giri capturing the king cobra in his camera.
This unfortunate incident further strengthened Giri’s resolve to heal the human-snake relationship through awareness. He started rigorously using social media tools to spread the right kind of message and quickly gained thousands of followers. He also embraced photography as a medium to further the cause of snake conservation. He also collaborates with snake researchers to help them document the different species found in Nepal and has co-authored several scientific publications on these reptilians. His rescue missions are also now a platform for him to raise awareness.

Snake rescues draw huge crowds. Curiosity often accompanies fear. And men, women, and children come out of their homes to see me handling snakes, allowing me to dispel the misconceptions associated with snakes.“, said Giri.

Onlookers, including children, watch a cobra in a field near a residential area in Nepal. Image credit: Rohit Giri

According to him, the best way to stay safe from snakes is to maintain a respectful distance from these animals and not panic when encountering a snake. People should not try to handle or kill the snake and instead call the nearest snake rescuer or wildlife center for help. If bitten by a snake, you should immediately consult a doctor at the nearest hospital and never go to traditional healers.

snake conservation awareness program
Rohit Giri shares information about king cobras during community outreach programs for king cobra conservation and raising awareness of human and king cobra coexistence in Kawasoti-Nawalpur, Nepal. Organized by the Nepal Association of Toxicology.

Giri also believes that snakes are generally non-aggressive and unlikely to waste their precious venom on humans except for self-defense. In his hundreds of rescues, only once was he nearly injured by a snake.

I had just walked into a dark kitchen of a house to save a snake that had not yet been identified. As soon as the lights came on, I discovered the snake coiled up in the kitchen sink. It was a baby monocled cobra. As I tried to pick up the snake with the hook, it spat venom“, Giri described one of his most daring rescues.

monocled cobra spitting venom
Monocled cobra spitting venom. Image credit: Rohit Giri

Giri was lucky that day. Monocled cobras are part of the group of spitting cobras with snakes that not only bite but also spray venom (called toxungen in this case) on the threat. Such sprays in the eyes can also cause permanent blindness. Giri escaped with only a minor eye injury and had to be admitted to hospital for a day. Amid all the chaos, he also managed to photograph the cobra spitting venom upon its release. This led to scientific publication as it was one of the rarest such records and also the first spitting behavior of a monocled cobra recorded in Nepal.

cobra monocle
Monocled Cobra taking refuge next to idols of Hindu deities in a shrine in a house in Nepal. This image is highly symbolic as Hindus are also known to worship snakes. Image credit: Rohit Giri
Despite all the challenges, Giri strives to save the snakes he loves so much. He thinks that while megafauna like tigers, elephants and rhinos get all the attention of the conservation community, snakes are largely ignored. There are few data on snake populations and their natural history, and their habitats are as threatened as those of other wildlife. Snakebites also cause about 81,000 to 138,000 worldwide each yearmaking it even more essential to educate the public about snakebites and how to avoid them.
Himalayan viper
A gem of the Himalayas. A Himalayan viper. Photo taken during a herpetofauna survey in Mustang, Nepal, 2019. Image credit: Rohit Giri

Today we live in a world where human-wildlife encounters are increasingly frequent and deadly in nature due to human encroachment on wildlife habitats. It is brave hearts like Rohit Giri who risk their own lives to mitigate these negative interactions to foster a harmonious relationship between humans and wild animals. I hope they will succeed in their “dangerous missions”.