Snakes in the frontiers- Happy ‘Naag Panchami’
Snakes are limbless vertebrates of order squamates, without limbs, in suborder Serpentes.These elongated ectotherms have enchanted human imaginations from folklore tales to modern science. Peoples’ respect to these animals due to spiritual, cultural and ecological roles are widely recognized from past to the present. However, most of these snakes are mistreated or intentionally killed due to the fear in peoples’ minds or hate due to possible harm. Thus, snakes are trated as a source of both amazement and fear based on the context.
Covered in overlapping scales, a snake can move smoothly and retain moisture in dry regions. Some species have scales on their bellies but scaleless bodies. There are more than 3,000 species of snakes on the earth, of which around 600 are venomous and 200 are capable of killing or seriously injuring a person. Almost all snakes devour their prey whole, whether they kill through squeezing or striking with venom.
Snakes have been of cultural or religious values, representing diverse symbols and omens in civilization. Many religious groups are well known about the cultural and religious values of these serpents. For example, Hindu, Jain, Buddhist, Christianity, Greek and Egyptian cultures hold the significant role of serpents. In Hindu culture, snakes are seen as super being “ Naag or Naga”, and the ornaments of gods. Devotees pay their respect to Nagas in the festival called “Nag Panchami” during July/august by offering milk or food. It is believed by doing so devotees are protected from snake bites or as a sense of safety from snakes. As this is a month of monsoon and snakes come out of their submerged burrows and come in interaction with farmers.
Although they are fraught upon and misunderstood, they constitute an essential component of many ecosystems. Snakes are widely distributed from hot deserts to cold deserts, oceans to headwaters. Many snake species feed on small mammals, birds, amphibians, and other reptiles. This prey-predator interaction prevents prey species from overpopulating and encourages the survival of other species. Snakes play a role in natural pest control through predation, helping to boost agriculture production and thus preventing crop damages. Snakes also serve as indicator species viz. presence or absence of some snake species help in inferring the ecosystem health. Snakes are sensitive animals that can react to alterations in their habitat’s quality or the presence of pollutants, giving us information about the ecosystem health.
Even though snakes have cultural and ecological significance, they have been largely neglected by conservation community and intentionally killed for different purposes. Wide ranging global biodiversity threats such as habitat degradation and loss, pollution, killing and trade, environmental changes and diseases have severly the snakes globally. Snakes and snake parts, such as their skins, are used to make food, medicine, and items like belts, bags, and purses. They are also kept by snake charmers as pets. Snakes are killed because people feel sense of threats from these animals and also are unable to distinguish between venomous snakes and non-venomous ones. The fear of snakes grows as a result of a lack of knowledge about snakebite prevention, inaccessible facilities for treating snakebites, and higher perceived risks of snakebites and mortality.
The killing of snakes seems to stem from deep- seated negativity rooted in fear, aggraveted by ignorance, about snake conservation. This ignorance, wrongly imbedded in the community conscience, attempts to justify the act of killing snakes and fails to recognize the vital ecological roles these creatures fulfill in supporting the ecosystems around us.
Conserving snakes through conservation education in society, spreading sense of love rather than hate towards snakes- “snakes do not attack people unless they feel threatened”, conservation support from conservation organizations, research from academia to explore state and threats to these beautiful creatures, and increasing media coverage about their values in maintaining environmental health, can be effective measures to reduce threats to snakes.
With a feeling of ‘snakes as friends rather than foes’ can only save these species and help us live sustainably in nature’s harmony.
Happy Naag Panchami
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog are solely of the author. ENPROSC, its affiliates, or employees do not hold responsibility for the information or opinions of the author in the article.
About the author: Rona Vaidhya is a graduate in Environmental Science, Tribhuvan University, currently an intern at ENPROSC. She has deep interest in biodiversity and wildlife conservation. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org