25 April, 2012
I was walking the dog this evening, in the wilderness outside my village where the land is gently undulating and covered with knee-length grass with rows of thorny scrub in the depressions. The weather was great for a walk; the sun mildly shining through a curtain of thin cloud. As I walked, I could smell the fragrance of tulsi as my feet crushed some plants that were spread out among the grass. The resident locals of the village and neighbouring villages had already collected most of the year's wild tulsi harvest in February, but these were new saplings that had come up with the summer showers, I imagine.
It was nearly dusk when the dog suddenly jumped backwards and pricked up her ears, her nose to the ground, twitching away trying to smell the life out of something that was obscured to me. As I tried to get closer to see better she kept pushing me away and growling at whatever it is she was looking at. I finally managed to pull her back and hold her and saw that she had stumbled across a small Russell's viper (Daboia russelli) lying quietly in the grass. Such are the times when I mentally slap my forehead for being too lazy to bring the camera out on the walks, but the point I want to drive home in this little essay is that time and again, I've witnessed my dog being defensive when she encounters a live venomous snake. This has previously happened four times with Russell's vipers in our yard at home, more than half a dozen times with the spectacled cobras (again, in our yard) and once with a saw-scaled viper that we encountered on a similar walk years ago. On occasions when she finds a live non-venomous snake (she's managed to find three wolf snakes, two green vine snakes, countless rat snakes, and once, even a cat snake), she merely attracts our attention to the snake and goes her way doing what she was originally doing. No growling, no ears upright, no straight tail, nothing. (She even let a green vine snake live in our curry leaf tree for a whole year after pointing it out to us.) I wonder how she knows the venomous ones from the non-venomous. Can she smell the venom in their venom sacs? I sure would love to know.