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.

Zai Whitaker June 14, 2020 09:41:23 IST
The Zai Whitaker column | Trailing Ajay Giri (from a safe distance) while on a King Cobra rescue mission

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.

The Zai Whitaker column  Trailing Ajay Giri from a safe distance while on a King Cobra rescue mission

2. The Three Musketeers of Agumbe: King Cobra handlers Ajay, Rom Whitaker, and Kumar

The Zai Whitaker column  Trailing Ajay Giri from a safe distance while on a King Cobra rescue mission

3. “Hi buddy, there you are, nice and snug and pretty wound up.”

The Zai Whitaker column  Trailing Ajay Giri from a safe distance while on a King Cobra rescue mission

4. Tying one’s shoelaces is a good idea. Not cool to trip while catching a King. Quite a crowd watching…

The Zai Whitaker column  Trailing Ajay Giri from a safe distance while on a King Cobra rescue mission

5. There we go. Cool and calm. No, not here. Into the bag please.

The Zai Whitaker column  Trailing Ajay Giri from a safe distance while on a King Cobra rescue mission

6. Almost done… but need to give the King Cobra conservation rap.

and

7. Time for a medical check-up.

The Zai Whitaker column  Trailing Ajay Giri from a safe distance while on a King Cobra rescue mission

8. And some babu work…after all we are in India.

The Zai Whitaker column  Trailing Ajay Giri from a safe distance while on a King Cobra rescue mission

9. The King will travel in the front of the jeep, for greater comfort. I [Zai] hastily offer to get in the back.

The Zai Whitaker column  Trailing Ajay Giri from a safe distance while on a King Cobra rescue mission

10. There you go; your big translocation adventure is over. Now try and keep a healthy distance from the dangerous species, Homo sapiens.

The Zai Whitaker column  Trailing Ajay Giri from a safe distance while on a King Cobra rescue mission

— 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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More columns by Zai Whitaker on Firstpost —

Notes on camping with crocodiles, and watching baby muggers hatch

On World Environment Day, looking back at lessons by the greatest teacher of all — time

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