The Zai Whitaker column | Trailing Ajay Giri (from a safe distance) while on a King Cobra rescue mission
Agumbe is a unique example of how dangerous animals and people (even more dangerous) can live peacefully together. The key piece is Ajay Giri.
I like nothing better than to watch others sweat it out in the field.
A couple of years ago I was at the Agumbe Rainforest Research Station, the Croc Bank’s “branch”in the Western Ghats. Soon after arrival, I went to Kainalli village on a King Cobra rescue mission with Ajay Giri, one of the doyens among snake handlers. It was the King Cobra breeding season, when these snakes are seriously on the go. And so is Ajay’s phone: Continuous calls for help from households, farms, shops and other human habitation. Once more, I witnessed Ajay’s amazingly good snake handling skills, and the tolerance of the local community to the largest venomous snake in the world.
Agumbe is a unique example of how dangerous animals and people (even more dangerous) can live peacefully together. The key piece is Ajay, whose work is sponsored by the Deshpande Foundation, Wildlife Conservation Society and others. It’s because of people like him that this iconic species has a chance of survival in this habitat tapestry of forest, plantations and fields.
A short memory-bite of the experience:
1. Ajay’s base: The Agumbe Rainforest Research Station run by the Madras Crocodile Bank.
2. The Three Musketeers of Agumbe: King Cobra handlers Ajay, Rom Whitaker, and Kumar
3. “Hi buddy, there you are, nice and snug and pretty wound up.”
4. Tying one’s shoelaces is a good idea. Not cool to trip while catching a King. Quite a crowd watching…
5. There we go. Cool and calm. No, not here. Into the bag please.
6. Almost done… but need to give the King Cobra conservation rap.
7. Time for a medical check-up.
8. And some babu work…after all we are in India.
9. The King will travel in the front of the jeep, for greater comfort. I [Zai] hastily offer to get in the back.
10. There you go; your big translocation adventure is over. Now try and keep a healthy distance from the dangerous species, Homo sapiens.
— Photos 5, 6 and 8 courtesy Marisa Ishimatsu.
Author and conservationist Zai Whitaker is managing trustee — Madras Crocodile Bank Trust/Centre for Herpetology
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