17 April, 2008

The Snake Who Went To Hell And Came Back

There's a great story behind this picture. It gives us an insight into the amazing conditions that can be tolerated by these amazing reptiles. Except for the destruction of habitat and killings by humans.

We were travelling down a hilly road in Nelliyampathy, a small hill town in Palakkad district of Kerala. Nelliyampathy is a plantation town with coffee and cinnamon and orange orchards and limited amounts of tea. Nelli has vast tracts of forests interspersed with this cultivation. It's also contiguous with the forests of Top Slip and Parambikulam and very much a part of the Anamalais. The north-western part, to be exact. So there we were, coasting in the car slowly amidst a terrain of mostly rock and grass with patches of moist deciduous shola in-between. The road was narrow and had room for only one vehicle. It wasn't blacktop or with any kind of pavement, just a couple of worn out mud and rock tracks with a strip of grass down the middle. All of a sudden there's a green vine snake lying in the middle of the road, seeming to be the innocuous stick broken off a green shrub. So we get off and get a brief photo session but before we can get more shots, there's a jeep approaching from the opposite side. Not only do we have to get off the road to give the jeep room to pass, we also wanted to make sure it didn't run over our green friend. So one of our group members who is a professional herpetologist tried to catch Mr. Green to relocate him to a safer place. Before that could be done, the approaching jeep and it's horn scared the snake away somewhere. Once the jeep had passed we looked all over but couldn't locate him, it seemed like he'd just disappeared. We resumed our journey greatly disappointed and headed downhill, back to the town of Nemmara which is the jump-off point for accessing Nelli from Palakkad/Thrissur. On the way down, about 30km into the journey, Mr. Green decides to make himself visible again. He's just gotten out of the wheel arch and is making his way up to the windshield/bonnet junction, where the wipers are at. All this, while we have been running the car downhill! So we stop the car and by that time this fella is scared of all the commotion (the exclamations) we're making and tries to get into the panel gap between the sides of the car and the bonnet lid. Our daring herpetologist comes to its rescue and frees him from that dangerous spot. We have a field day with the cams on the snake since he's being handled, he can't run! After about 20 harrying minutes for the green fella we're done and let him go into the shrubbery near a stream.

It's only logical that he was under the bonnet all the while right from our encounter with that jeep. For all of 30km. Temperatures in the bonnet can exceed 70 degrees C especially when you're in hilly terrain since the car has to be run in lower gears. It's a wonder and a miracle that he wasn't toasted to death or that he didn't get himself entangled with any of the mechanicals down there.

Green Vine Snakes are commonly found throughout the subcontinent and other parts of South and South East Asia. They do have venom but it isn't very potent when injected into humans, although some people develop an allergic reaction to it. There's a widespread misbelief in Tamilnadu that these snakes attack you and inject poison in your eyes which results in death. This is due to the fact that these snakes spend most of their time in the trees (arboreal snakes), hanging down many a time. So in the event of an encounter with a human, the head would naturally be in-line with the snake's head and the eyes being the most prominent part of one's geometry, would naturally be the place the snake decides to attack.

For those interested, here's a small video of Nelliyampathy:


chandamama said...

Nice write up and video. Thanks for sharing

arun negi said...

great writeup dhaval!i could visualise everything

OSAI Chella said...

came from your flickr. incredible escape for the green soul. well written and well captured!