Stuart Forster looks at the profession of snake catching in Bengaluru, India.
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Meeting people is one of the great joys of travel. Of course, you can never predict when you’re going to bump into someone in an unusual or exciting job, but when it happens it can prove fascinating.
I met Babu, a snake catcher in Bengaluru, India. I persuaded him to give me a call the next time he went out on a job so that I could watch him at work snake catching in Bengaluru.
Babu was aged 24 years old when we met. He operates his business with his friend Raja, aged 29. Babu followed in the footsteps of his father, both literally and metaphorically. He went on his first snake-catching expeditions aged 10, walking behind his father so that he could watch and learn how to catch snakes.
Snake catching in Bengaluru
His work usually involves catching snakes that have come uncomfortably close to humans. Construction work, common in a booming Indian city such as Bengaluru, causes the loss of snakes’ natural habitat. Consequently, the snakes move and sometimes they slither closer to homes than humans find comfortable. From time to time snakes will enter gardens and houses.
Babu explained that it’s common for snakes to move into areas close to human habitation overnight. People then discover the serpents during the course of their daily activities.
Rat snakes, cobras, kraits and pythons
Rat snakes are non-poisonous but have a nasty bite. It is one of the species of snakes that Babu catches most frequently.
So too are cobras, which are one of India’s commonest venomous snakes. He also comes into regular contact with a number of other species, including kraits, keelbacks and pythons.
When he has to catch a cobra, Babu will suppress the serpent with a specially designed snake-catching stick. The tool has a head with an ‘L’ shaped piece of metal.
When he’s called out to catch a rat snake then he’ll use his bare hands. Having seen the speed at which rat snakes move, this revelation causes my eyebrows to dart skywards quicker than a bandicoot scooting out of the way of danger from a snake.
The dangers of snake catching
There’s a nasty scar on the flesh between Babu’s thumb and forefinger. He tells me how he was bitten there by a rat snake years ago. That event is noteworthy due to its rarity, he explains. Despite the apparent dangers of his job, Babu has been bitten only once by a venomous snake, a cobra. He had to be injected with antivenin and, fortunately, suffered no major reaction or after effects.
Babu’s busiest times of year are during the southwest monsoon (from June to September) and summer months (from mid-March to May). This is because rain water and extreme heat tend to force snakes out of their holes and resting places. At these times of year he might get a couple of calls a day, but there are also periods during which very few snakes need to be caught.
Releasing captured snakes into the wild
Sometimes Babu and his sidekick Raja have to move furniture or shift plant pots from houses in order to create space to capture snakes. To the anguish of the human property owners, the snakes have taken up residence in buildings. On other occasions, the pair dig into the earth around drains to ensure they capture resting snakes quickly and effectively.
Once a snake is caught, Babu feels obliged to release the animal into the wild, away from humans.
He doesn’t undertake anything complex, such as the milking of the snake’s venom, before freeing it. I thought that might have been a way of making money from snake catching but he puts me right. A couple of times a week drives 21 kilometres (13 miles) south, down to Bannerghatta National Park, and releases the snakes at a secluded spot on the edge of the jungle.
The price of catching a snake
Travel to Bengaluru
Air India, Emirates, Etihad Airways and Oman Air count among the airlines offering flights between London and Bengaluru.
See the UK Government website for India travel advice.
Hotels in Bengaluru
Find accommodation in Bengaluru, Karnataka, via Booking.com:
Books about snakes and India
Interested in snakes? Planning a trip to India? You may find the following books useful:
Snakes for Kids: A Junior Scientist’s Guide to Venom, Scales, and Life in the Wild by Michael G Starkey:
Snake: The Essential Visual Guide by Chris Mattison:
Indian Snakes: A Field Guide by Neelimkumar Khaire:
If you’re interested in snakes then make an effort to visit Chennai Snake Park at Rajbhavan Post in Chennai, Tamil Nadu. Romulus Whitaker, the renowned herpetologist, played a significant role in the park’s foundation and formative years.
Thanks for visiting Go Eat Do and reading this post about Snake catching in Bengaluru. If you’re considering travelling in southern India you may be interested in this post on the Golden Chariot, the luxury train that visits cultural attractions in Karnataka and beyond.
Stuart Forster, the author of this post, lived in India and is a travel writer. His work has been published by National Geographic Traveller, BBC Good Food and Discover India.
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A version of this post was first published on Go Eat Do on 14 January 2014.