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HomekarnatakaKarnataka forest dept to slither into snake research with PIT tags

Karnataka forest dept to slither into snake research with PIT tags

Hubballi: The Kali Tiger Reserve (KTR) in Uttara Kannada district has received permission from the research appraisal committee of the Karnataka Forest Department to insert Passive Integrated Transponder (PIT) tags into snakes — a measure that will helptrack their movement and reduce human-snake conflicts.

This is the first time the forest department has taken up such a study in the state.

At present, three private initiatives are conducting telemetric studies on king cobra, Russell’s viper and pit vipers.

The forest department will cover all types of snakes. The trained staff at KTR will insert a microchip into every snake they rescue, irrespective of whether it is venomous or non-venomous, to understand the frequency with which the reptile is getting into conflict with humans. Mitigation measures will be planned based on the data.

According to a deputy range forest officer at KTR, on average, five to eight snakes are rescued a day in the summer.

Reports indicate that snakebites result in the highest number of human casualties in human-wildlife conflicts in India. According to a World Health Organisation report, every year India reports nearly five million snakebites, resulting in 81,000 to 1.38 lakh deaths and amputations in over 4 lakh people.

Given the large presence of human habitations within the thick forests of Uttara Kannada,especially inside KTR, there is a greater need to conduct a study to understand the magnitude of human-snake conflicts and find a solution towards coexistence.

KTR is home to more than 40 types of snakes including the king cobra, spectacled cobra, Russell’s viper, saw-scaled viper, common krait, vine snake, green or bamboo pit viper (all venomous), Indian rock python and rat snake.

“We have received approval from the forest department to conduct PIT-tagging on snakes. Once we get the written order, the staff will start tagging the snakes and conduct a scientific study,” said KTR field director Nilesh Shinde.

He said PIT tags will help identify individual snakes in conflict, and the data collected over a period of time will help the department in assessing the population of snakes in a particular area.

“With capture-recapture data obtained using PIT tags, the status of their population, home range and ecology will be studied. It will also help us to understand the human-snake conflict situation better, formulate rescue protocols on capture, and improve the overall process of snake rescue,” he said.

KTR’s Wildlife Research & Training Centre will collect the data, analyse it and formulate measures to be taken for mitigation.

Canara Circle Chief Conservator of Forests Vasanth Reddy said the project will generate the much-needed scientific information on human-snake conflict.

“The project has three main objectives: maintain a scientific database of all rescued snakes, monitor them through PIT-tagging and capacity building of frontline staff with respect to ecology and conservation of snakes through latest monitoring techniques.”

Karnataka has been at the forefront of snake study through telemetric research for one and a half decades now. 

Similar studies by the Agumbe Rainforest Research Station have revealed several secrets about the king cobra; Hunasur-based herpetologist Gerry Martin has been studying Russell’s viper, one of the big four venomous snakes behind the deaths of a large number of farmers; while Priyanka Swamy, researcher at Kalinga Centre for Rainforest Ecology, Agumbe, is studying pit vipers.

Gerry said PIT-tagging will provide valuable scientific data regarding the ecology and distribution of snakes. “Long-term studies and observation through PIT-tagging can help the forest department to understand the density of snakes in the region and educate people about it,” he said.

Highlights – Marking reptilesPIT (Passive Integrated Transponder) tags help track the movement of snakes  A microchip will be inserted into every snake rescued from Kali Tiger ReserveTags will help understand the frequency with which the reptile is getting into conflict with humansMitigation measures will be planned accordinglyKTR is home to over 40 types of snakes including the king cobra, spectacled cobra, Russell’s viper, common krait, vine snake and Indian rock python 

(Published 13 November 2023, 21:40 IST)

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