A Visit to a Snake Farm
By Shanuka Kadupitiyage
After exiting the expressway at Imaduwa and driving some ways down Akuressa road, we took a right turn towards Horagoda road to reach our destination. We were greeted by our host as we got out of the car.
His name is Vikman Bandaranayake, the grandson of D.G James Appuhamy. “Grandfather loved snakes,” said Vikman as he recounted the story of his grandfather. “He learnt how to handle snakes and passed his knowledge down to his son. So what we do has been in the family for some time now.”
That knowledge passed down from generation to generation definitely comes in handy for Vikman. He runs a snake farm which he maintains in his home garden. What can be expected in a normal farm is the complete opposite in this case. Vikman’s trade is rescuing and taking care of snakes before releasing them into the wild.
“When someone finds a snake in their house, they usually call us. We capture such snakes and bring them here. If they are injured, we treat their wounds and care for them before releasing them to wild habitats. We sometimes hand them over to officials of the Department of Wildlife Conservation,” Vikman said.
We learnt this titbit of information as we talked with him about what he does. He pointed at a row of concrete boxes that lined alongside his garden wall. The top of each had a lid made of a wooden frame and mesh that opened on a hinge. “We keep our snakes here until they’re ready for release”
He went towards one and opened the lid, pulling out a snake and displayed the slithering creature to us. It was a spectacled cobra, which flared its hood as he coiled in front of us on the ground. The cobra had a large chunk of its hood missing. “We rescued this snake recently after a mongoose had attacked him. He’s made a complete recovery and we are hoping to release him soon”
Such rescues happen often in Vikman’s experience. He’s often had to rescue snakes on the brink of being killed by panicked people. Once rescued, he treats the wounds of the rescued snakes using traditional medicinal methods. After putting the cobra back, Vikman brought two other cobras out and we talked a little more about cobras.
Vikman explained the difference between white cobras and brown cobras, and about the temperament of the two with a few fun facts. Back in the day the snakes were classified into castes based on the colour of their scales. There apparently was a myth that the potency of each caste’s venom was different. “The lighter scaled cobra has a mellower personality but the poison is equally deadly,” he said as he put both snakes back in their separate boxes.
He then brought a few other non-venomous snakes out which we were lucky to handle a little. We spoke a little more with Vikman on his experience of handling snakes for many years.
“There are 72 species of land snakes in Sri Lanka,’’ he explained, “but only seven of them are deadly poisonous. Yet, because people are so fearful of snakes and snakebites, they kill them on sight without thinking twice. Usually, this ends with the death of a harmless snake, which is the sad truth. Most of the snakes killed by unaware and panicking people are harmless. Right now, the entire local snake population is declining because of the kill-on-sight approach taken by the people.”
Needless to say, predators such as snakes are vital for the equilibrium of an ecosystem because they regulate the population of small mammals and birds. Fewer snakes would be a harmful influence to both the natural ecosystems and farmlands.
Vikman blamed the ignorance and unawareness of the majority of people for the current situation. “If you ever see a snake, don’t make haste to kill it. Call the relevant authorities and stay calm until they handle the situation.”
“Snakes rarely attack unless provoked or cornered,” said Vikman. “It’s more likely that they would escape before trying to take a stand against humans.”
(Pix by Dumindu Wanigasekara)