When World Cup 2018 was in full swing, Basant Subedi of the Dang district in Lumbini was returning home after watching a football match on a big screen in Ghorahi Bazaar. He saw a snake on the road. Others would get frightened, but he grabbed it and went home. He then put it inside a box, put a lid and slept soundly.
Another day, a snake entered his neighbour’s house. People held big sticks in attempts to kill the snake. Subedi said, “We should not talk about killing snakes, but just catching them alive.” Others told him to stay out. But, he caught the snake and let it go in a bush away from the village.
Words of him catching snakes spread throughout the district. Since then, he has caught hundreds of small and large snakes alive and taken them to a safe place. And, now, he is known as the popular ‘snake catcher’ in the Dang district.
These days, as soon as people see snakes, they call him. He gets ready to help them any time. Now, he is on a full-time snake rescue mission and also participates in snake awareness programmes.
From the day Subedi captured the snake, he started reading about snakes. He learned about various venomous and non-venomous snakes and about their role in environmental balance. He understood that snakes should not be killed but should be protected.
“Since I was not afraid of snakes from childhood, I was curious to learn something about catching snakes,” the 21-year-old Subedi recalls the moment five years ago.
What began as the interest now has evolved with his social duty to rescue the snakes. A few days ago, a snake entered the house of Kamala Kanwar, a resident of Gulariya in Ghorahi sub-metropolitan city-15. The Kanwar family was terrified of being bitten by the snake, and Subedi came to their rescue and extracted the snake successfully.
This was just one of the many incidents that many lives, of humans and snakes, have been saved by him.
A few days ago, Subedi’s mother broke her arm after she fell from the roof of their house. Even then, he was out to rescue snakes. He is continuing to work despite the situation.
He works alone and does not seek help from anyone or any government body. He is continuing to his rescue even though he neither has the means of transportation nor the tools to catch snakes.
In his pursuit of four years, he estimates he has spent more than 100,000 rupees in snake rescue. Although many people tried to give him help monetarily, he has refused all except the boots and gloves that Phaniraj Pokhrel, a businessman from Ghorahi, gave him.
Subedi says he started this pursuit as a volunteer campaign for study and self-satisfaction.
He is a student of the bachelor’s of science in agriculture (BSc Ag) in Chitwan and also a member of the Snake Conservation Society Nepal. He wants to continue research in this field in the future. He has even taught people to rescue snakes while spreading awareness about reptiles.
Yet, he has some bittersweet experiences related to snakes. In September 2020, a man from Surkedangi of Ghorahi in Dang called Subedi after he discovered a snake in his house. But, by the time Subedi got there, the locals had already killed it. He still holds the event as a bad memory.
With red, black and white spots, some snakes looked very beautiful. It is identified as a rare snake, an ornate flying snake, that could fly from one place to another. In Nepal, some even call it ‘Takshak Nag’. “Even though the snake has previously been sighted from Mechi to Mahakali, it was probably the first time, it was sighted in Dang in that incident,” Subedi says, adding he was sad that he could not save this.
But, he has other happy moments too. A snake was seen in a house in Panaura of Ghorahi for 10 consecutive days. The house owner then called Subedi to rescue. On the 11th day, the snake was sighted in the same house again. But, this time the house owner did not call Subedi and rescued the animal himself, following Subedi’s instructions.
“Since I am not always in the district, I have been teaching interested people to rescue the snakes. They have been able to save some too and I am very happy to see that,” informs Subedi.
Lack of tools and space
A few days ago, a python was sighted in Babai village. The locals called Subedi, but he had no means to rescue such a big snake. He took the 20-kg python and transported it on a motorcycle to Bijauri of Tulsipur.
From there, the Dang Division Forest Office provided a vehicle and he then took it to a nearby forest and released it. However, there is still a problem in managing other snakes.
Last year, Subedi rescued more than 300 snakes whereas he has rescued more than 600 snakes including common cobra this year. But, according to the snake rescuer, there is a lack of resources and space for snake management.
If there is a definite area to release the rescued snakes, it would have been easier to look for the snakes, he says. “On the one hand, people are scared of snakes and a few are dying from snakebites. On the other, the number of snakes being killed has not decreased,” he says, adding, “To tackle both, local governments have to come with rescue and preservation campaign.”
Snakes are not enemies
“Snakes play a role in balancing the ecosystem. Even snake venom can be an important life-saving drug. The anti-snake venom, used to treat snakebites, is made from snake venom. Snake venom can also be a painkiller for cancer patients. That is why, I have been trying to explain that snakes should be protected, not killed,” he said.
It is estimated that more than 90 species of snakes are found in Nepal. Not all snakes are venomous. The most venomous snakes found in Nepal are common cobras.
“Snakes only bite if they feel insecure. But, many believe all snakes bite and, if bitten, death is the ultimate result. So, people who worship snakes also are inclined to kill them as soon as we see them. We have to make it clear that snakes are not our enemies.”’
He also wants people to realise that any witch doctor cannot treat venomous snakebites. If bitten by one, he strongly suggests going to the hospital as soon as possible.
On a side note, he also says it is very easy to raise a snake. “They do not occupy a large space. Once fed, they do not have to be fed for the next 15 days.”