Whenever the call comes their way — which could happen several times a week — a group of snake rescuers in Bangladesh’s southeastern city of Chattogram immediately rush to save the reptiles, Arab News reports.
Formed in January 2020, Snake Rescue Team Bangladesh, or SRTB, have rescued about 2,000 snakes from across Chattogram, according to the report.
In the hilly region, located about 250 kilometers from the capital Dhaka, snake sightings are a common occurrence, cites the report.
The 19-member team is on a mission to raise awareness of the vital role that the reptiles play in the ecosystem, according to the Arab News report.
“Our aim is to create awareness over the importance of snakes for our biodiversity and the well-being of humans,” Farhadul Islam, 22, one of the five founding members of the team, was quoted to have told Arab News.
It is estimated that more than 710,000 snake bite incidents take place annually in rural Bangladesh, according to a 2010 study published in the science and medicine journal PLOS. The prevalence of such incidents means that many people in Bangladesh often kill snakes, including non-venomous species, on sight, Arab News further reports.
But Islam and his group, whose members have all been trained in rescuing snakes, are committed to changing the prevailing mindset, according to the report.
“Nowadays, our farmers are losing more crops due to rats on the field. But the losses would have been minimal if there were enough snakes in nature, as rats are natural food for the snakes,” Islam was quoted as saying.
Snakes are also important for medical science, Islam was quoted to have added, as many antibiotics are prepared from snake venoms.
The group, comprising mostly college students in their early 20s, have been rescuing snakes voluntarily. While in some cases people give them money for transportation, SRTB mostly self-fund the work, which also involves treating injured snakes, according to the report.
For some members, their passion for snakes started when they were much younger, according to the report.
While most children grew up fearing snakes, as a boy Siddiqur Rahman Rabbi spent hours learning about serpents to understand how to capture them. He used to believe that the act was a thing of magic, but later learned that it simply requires technique, the report cites.
“It took me five years to acquire the skill of capturing snakes,” Rabbi was quoted as telling Arab News, adding that he had watched a lot of television on the subject, including shows on Animal Planet and National Geographic, while also traveling to different parts of his hometown to learn from snake charmers.
“Finally, I gathered some like-minded youths through social media from my city who also wanted snakes to be allowed to live,” the 25-year-old, a founding member of SRTB, was quoted to have said.
“It’s a very risky job, because every moment you need to be watchful of the snake’s movements. When you lose attention for even a fraction of a second, it might take your life.”
SRTB’s efforts have since been recognised by officials in the region, with the local wildlife protection department referring all snake rescue calls to the group, Islam was quoted as saying.
In the last year, according to the report, the group has rescued different snake species, from pythons to various types of cobras, using simple tools such as snake hooks and gloves in order to capture and later release them to the nearby forest reserve.
Last October, SRTB rescued 22 baby black cobras from the home of a government official, Mohammad Belal Hossain, in the Hathazari region, about 50 kilometers from Chattogram. The effort took them three days, according to the Arab News report.
“It was a highly venomous snake and not very common in this area. But I noticed the snakes don’t harm people unless they are being attacked,” Hossain was quoted to have told Arab News.
The experience reportedly showed Hossain that maintaining coexistence with the serpents “is very important to maintain the ecological balance in nature.”
With limited resources and funds, the group remains bound to their hometown in Chattogram for the time being. But they believe that their work will have a ripple effect across the country, according to the report.
“I believe, with the passing of time, our work will spread across the country and people will understand the necessity of saving nature and the serpents,” Islam was quoted to have said.