Following the footsteps of his father and brother, Biplab Mahapatra from Odisha pursued a degree in journalism. Yet the love of animals had always been a priority for him, prompting him to devote his free time to rescuing wild animals and protecting the innocent creatures from the wrath and greed of human beings. In the past eight years, Biplab, also a mountaineer, had rescued over 17,000 snakes, 500 Cattle, 20 Cats, 15 Monkeys, 200 Birds, 2200 others reptiles and in the process, set the new Limca record for saving the highest number of at-risk species. Talking to Efforts For Good, Biplab shares about his latest initiative – Save Snakes – aimed to reduce human-snake conflict and spread awareness to prevent deaths from snake bites. By organising awareness camps in schools, colleges and corporate offices, Biplab and his team have drastically reduced snakebite-related deaths in his hometown in Odisha.
Saving snakes means saving human lives as well
In 2010, Biplab had gone for a trekking trip when news reached him that a python had entered a village and the villagers have planned to kill it. He rushed to the spot, and it took him hours of explanation to deter the violently thrilled villagers. “I told them repeatedly it was non-venomous and better left in the wild,” shares Biplab.
For years, Biplab and his enthusiastic team of volunteers, who add up to around fifty in number now, have been rescuing snakes from all over the country, especially in Odisha. “As word spread about us, we used to get calls for snake bite related cases. From my experience, I could identify the nature of snake bite from looking at the wound texture and could assist doctors by telling them whether it was a venomous or non-venomous snake. We helped save many lives in the process,” narrates Biplab.
Even after numerous rescue operations, sometimes even risking his life, he found that a lot of people are still succumbing to snake bites even with advanced antidotes available. While the official WHO records mention the number of such deaths to be around 50,000 annually, unreported cases in rural interiors take the number beyond 1.25 lakhs. The experience made Biplab realise that people’s perception of snakes is based mostly on myths and misconception, which is why conflict is imminent whenever a human encounters a snake. “I found that people still nurture age-old superstition, and hence they rush the patient to faith healers or temple instead of the hospital,” he informs. This paved the way for the Save Snakes campaign.
The Save Snakes campaign
Started in July 2018, the campaign has been launched in and around Odisha. School and college students, as well as local people who live in proximity to the forests, are provided life-saving lessons on different types of snakes, how to identify and distinguish between venomous and non-venomous snakes and how to save a life in case of a toxic snake bite. The team also busts myths and folklores about snakes while explaining in detail about antidotes and first aid for snake bites.
“We have found the best response among school children who are eager to learn about the scientific truth. Targeting the younger minds is more fruitful as they can influence and convince their seniors better. We try to make these sessions very engaging and interactive with video presentations. We never do any demonstration with live animals as it is a non-bailable crime. So far, we have covered around 100 schools in 10 Odisha districts,” he shares.
Bitten by a dangerous snake once, twice shot at by poachers
The fearless Biplab Mahapatra has been a real saviour for almost every other animal species in India, barring tigers and elephants. “Not only wild beasts, but we have also rescued domestic animals like cattle, pets like cats, dogs etc. from threatening situations,” he shares. With his unit, Biplab has checked illegal animal transportation including cross-border cattle smuggling. His Anti-Poaching unit has prevented the illegal trade of numerous wildlife products. In fact, during a face-off with poachers, Biplab was shot at twice, narrowly escaping death by a stroke of luck.
His snake rescue missions are full of life risk at every step, he himself admits. “Despite my training and expertise, I have been bitten innumerable times by non-venomous snakes. Once I was bitten by a Banded Krait, one of the most highly venomous snakes in the Indian subcontinent. A quick intervention saved my life by the hair,” recounts Biplab. Nothing can ever dissuade him to not put his life at stake again and again for the sake of animals and humans in turn.
Honours and challenges
“Since 2013, I am officially working with People For Animals headed by Smt Maneka Gandhi, as I found their ideologies aligning with mine. I have also been selected as the Honorary Animal Welfare Officer of AWBI (Animal Welfare Board of India),” he shares.
Despite government recognition, funding remains a problem for the Save Snakes team. “We are hoping the government and private enterprises help us with funds so that we can launch the campaign on a more widespread basis,” appeals Biplab.
Message for everyone
“Article 51A (g) of the Indian Constitution says that it is a duty of all citizens to protect and preserve the natural environment including forests and wildlife. I request every human being to live in harmony with the animals and not treat them as hostile,” Biplab appeals to everyone.
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