King Cobras, Science and Snakebites in India
7 -8.30 PM, Friday 12 October 2012 | Opus, Vasant Nagar
With a record length of a little over 18 feet, the king cobra is the longest venomous snake in the world. In 2008, Rom Whitaker initiated the first ever radio telemetry study of not just the King Cobra, but of any snake species in India. Originally, implanting two translocated snakes with transmitters in 2008, the team went on to implant two non-trans-located snakes in 2009. Tracking these four specimens has revealed for the first time, details of wild King Cobra behavior and ecology.
Rom will run us through the history of the radio telemetry project and describe some of the significant breakthroughs in the study. From incidents of cannibalism to thermal ecology of nesting females, we will explore all that is known about King Cobras in the wild.
The tiny and picturesque village of Agumbe hosts the Agumbe Rainforest Research Station – the base for the King Cobra Study. Despite the high density of King Cobras in the region, incidents of snake-human conflict are rare. The residents of Agumbe peacefully coexist with thislongest of venomous serpents. Astonishing, when one considers that over 50,000 people lose their lives to snakebite each year in India.
In view of this statistic, Rom will touch upon snakebite management in India, including recent advancements in venom research, the state of healthcare and avenues for effective conflict mitigation.
Rom Whitaker, popularly known as the snake man of India, has been captivated by reptiles since he was 5 years old. He came to India as a boy in 1951 and his career in conservation began with the campaign for the preservation of Silent Valley (which became an icon of the conservation movement in India). He then helped halt the unsustainable snake skin industry and set up a venom cooperative for Irula tribal snake hunters. He started India’s first reptile park, the Madras Snake Park in 1969 and India’s crocodile gene bank, the Madras Crocodile Bank in 1976. They both continue to function as resources for research and conservation education.
Rom has traveled widely to developing countries like Bangladesh, Mozambique, Papua New Guinea, Malaysia and Indonesia as a wildlife management consultant for the United Nations. He has written books, scientific papers and popular articles, and produced and presented 30 documentary films. Rom and his colleagues also established the Andaman and Nicobar Islands Environmental Team and Agumbe Rainforest Research Station as field stations to foster research and local awareness.