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Opening after months of closure, many shops in Chennai find snakes inside

The Tamil Nadu Fire and Rescue Services and the Forest Department have received numerous calls for snake rescues in the city

When industries and shops in the city and suburbs opened after months, following the COVID-19 lockdown, some had surprise visitors — snakes.

According to the Tamil Nadu Fire and Rescue Services (TNFRS) a total of 409 snake rescue calls were received between January and August 14. “Between March and August alone, we got 355 calls,” said a TNFRS officer. Out of these calls, 66 were from shops, schools and industries. People have also calling forest officials and snake rescuers upon seeing snakes at their premises.

TNFRS personnel said that most often, they spot rat snakes and sometimes, they rescue cobras. “We also rescued a Common Bronzeback Tree snake from the Tambaram municipal court recently. We have a snake-catcher stick to catch the snake and we put it in a bag safely. We release it inside the forest. We have also received training at the Snake Park, Chennai. We are taught how to catch snakes,” said A. Fateeh, station officer, Tambaram.

The Forest Department also has a lot of volunteers who help in snake rescues. People call the Forest Department on 044-22200335 for animal rescues. “However, we need more staff and transport facilities. We have around 15 staff and they go for all sorts of urban wildlife rescue. Every year, we rescue around 6,000 urban wildlife, including monkeys, snakes, birds and deer. Given the rapid development and density of houses, we need to double our staff to cover the city,” said a source from the Forest Department.

Shravan Krishnan, an animal rescuer, said: “I have attended 15 to 20 calls during COVID-19 lockdown. Most often I have spotted Russell’s Viper, Saw Scaled Viper and Spectacled Cobra. I inform the Forest Department and check if staff are available. Otherwise I go and rescue the snake and if they are non-venomous, I release them in forest cover nearby. If they are venomous, I hand them over to the Forest Department,” he said.

P. Gowri Shankar, herpetologist and King cobra conservationist, said that snakes came out more during the lockdown as human movement was restricted and there were fewer vehicles. “When they get food and shelter with a conducive temperature, snakes stay in one place for a long time. This can be in industries, shops or even residential areas,” he said.

Showkath Jamal, founder, Bay Of life Foundation, an NGO working on ocean and snake conservation, said that some industries and offices along the OMR, ECR, GST Road and in areas including Oragadam, Sriperumbudur, Ekkaduthangal, Guindy and Ambattur contacted them after they spotted snakes in their campuses. “We used to get calls before the lockdown too, but now the numbers have increased,” said Mr. Jamal. He said that the calls are forwarded to the Forest Department. “We organise training on managing venomous snakes in campus too,” he said.

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