As Snakebites Surge in Kashmir, One Woman Tries to Keep the Reptiles Away from Locals

On Tuesday, Aliya Mir, the only female wildlife rescuer and conservationist in Kashmir, received a phone call from the police control room about a snake slithering through a two-wheeler next to the crowded Civil Secretariat building in Srinagar.

Mir rushed to the spot and slowly began to pull out the creeper whose head was clinging to the cover of the creeper’s foot. The snake, which seemed to be afraid of curious onlookers, would not come out of the cavity. After spending nearly 15 minutes, Mir finally took out the creature and trapped it, only to be released into the wild later.

“It was a six-foot-wide snake that lodged poorly in the canoe. A strong pull back would have injured the snake,” she said. “We had to open the motorbike covers and remove them safely.”

Meyer learned that the snake had come on a truck from Jammu and had fallen off the road before it reached the canoe.

“The rescue had to be done quickly because a large crowd was restless at the site. The safety of the reptiles was important,” she told News18.

A few curious and some eccentric onlookers began filming Mir handling the snake, many clapping in awe as she finished her mission.

The wildlife expert has made several such appointments with the reptiles in the past eight years. Being the first responder to capture animals at large, Meer rescued and released 200 of them back into the wild after they were found violating human habitations.

In Kashmir there are widely two types of snakes – the deadly poisonous snake and the non-venomous rat snakes. In Jammu, there have been cases of sightings of cobras, Russell’s viper and krait with rat snakes.

From April onwards, incidents of snakebite are frequent in Kashmir until October, after which the reptiles go into hibernation. This year, Mir says, she’s been getting three to four distress calls a day versus three in two weeks for the past few years. April was unusually hot this time and snake watching was frequent. The snake is a cold-blooded animal, and fluctuating temperatures stimulate different reactions from it.”

The head of the Wildlife SOS project said the pit viper in the Levant and the Himalayas was deadly poisonous and it was necessary to take the person who was bitten to a hospital immediately for treatment. “Any delay could be dangerous,” she cautioned, adding that a tourniquet should not be placed in the event of a snakebite.

In Srinagar, SKIMS, Soura, is the first and only hospital that deals with snakebites. Dr. Farouk Jan, the hospital’s medical supervisor, told News18 that the emergency medicine department treats snakebites because it is a priority. “We have a sufficient stock of anti-snake venom,” he said. “Snakebite incidents rise in the summer. On a monthly basis, we treat 10 to 15 patients or more.”

Apart from SKIMS, Soura, the Boniyar Sub-district Hospital near the Control Line and adjacent to Uri treats bites. Dr. Parvez Masoudi, the medical officer in the building, said his hospital treated 26 patients in the past year.

“Portables who take food rations, fuel and ammunition on mules to the heights for the army and ranchers are often bitten by snakes. Transporting them to Srinagar would take hours and patients would develop nervous system and kidney complications.

“I suggested to higher officials that since snakebites are common here, we should have adequate antidote in the hospital since Srinagar is so far away from here. They agreed and the facilities helped save lives,” said Dr. Masoudi, expressing his happiness.

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