Over the past two years, the number of snake sightings in Gurugram has gone up manifold, especially during the monsoon. In fact, according to a 2018 news report, the Gurugram wildlife department claimed to have rescued around 450 poisonous snakes in June-July last year from neighbourhoods, including high-rise apartments. And this is not just about Gurugram—everywhere, forests are yielding space to urban centres. It’s no wonder then that snakes are at the heart of the human-wildlife conflict in India. According to recent estimates by the World Health Organization, as many as 2.8 million people are bitten by snakes in India every year, and 46,900 of them die. Yet there is little or no awareness about the first aid to be administered or the urgency in calling a snake rescuer.
Now, an app hopes to offer solutions to such emergencies across India. Launched two months ago by zoologist Vivek Sharma and Jose Louies, deputy director at the non-profit Wildlife Trust of India, Indian Snakes is available free for download on the Google Play Store. “The idea is to use technology in conservation. This is an all-in-one app. You don’t need to head to multiple places seeking answers,” says Louies, who is also a member of the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Viper Specialist Group.
The system, developed by Leopard Tech Labs, is easy to navigate and offers information such as details of hospitals within a 100km radius and a nationwide team of expert rescuers. With 202 certified rescuers on board, the “Snake Rescuers” section offers records of their past rescues and helps the user connect with them directly. “There is a field guide, in case you want to learn more about the different species. It also mentions steps that people need to take in case someone in their vicinity has been bitten by a snake. This, especially, has come into sharp focus due to the recent incident involving the 10-year-old schoolgirl in Kerala,” says Louies.
The incident he mentions took place on 20 November in Wayanad, when a class V student, Shahla Sherin, was bitten by a snake in her classroom. According to news reports, her classmates alerted the teacher, who dismissed it as inconsequential. As Sherin’s condition worsened, she was taken to a local hospital, and then referred to the Kozhikode Medical College. Sadly, she died on the way. “If there was more awareness and empathy, this incident could have been averted,” adds Louies.
Sharma and he have been working on snake-human conflict and snake conservation since 2016, when they launched the website Indiasnakes.org. It was aimed at changing mindsets and helping people connect with the doctors closest to them. The app will take this forward, and try and ensure quicker reaction.
“The challenge now is to encourage hospitals to stock anti-venom and recruit trained doctors to administer the same,” adds Louies.