A Curious Visitor

In the midst of the COVID-19 lockdown, a curious encounter with a Russell’s viper climbing stairs revealed the importance of proper garbage management in urban areas. This snake’s presence was a sign of an ecosystem out of balance due to unchecked rodents, emphasizing the need for responsible waste disposal.

Let me tell you a story! That too of a curious visitor!

I was living in one of the most urbanised areas of Bangalore city when this happened. It was also when the first wave of COVID-19 hit us. We were all restricted inside our houses. One of those days, I was going down from the second floor to throw garbage in the bins on the ground floor. When I reached the first floor and was further climbing down, I saw this curious snake slowly climbing up the stairs. I paused and observed. It was a beautiful one and had a hissing sound. I knew it was a viper but could not conclude whether it was Russell’s or a Saw-scaled viper. I ran back to my home, got the phone and clicked some photos while maintaining a safe distance. The snake was still climbing. Feeling irritated by my presence, it then decided to go back and went into a rainwater drain on the ground floor. I called my house owner living next door. He called a snake rescuer, who reached our place( faster than a rat snake moves!). He waited on the other side of the drain pipe and in a little while our friend, the Russell’s viper, exited into the sack he was holding. The snake rescuer identified it as a young Russell’s viper and took it to be released in the Bannerghatta forest range. Not sure if the snake liked that idea. 

I asked my herpetology friend about this visit. He said something interesting that I want to share with you too. He said that the Russell’s viper’s main food is rodents and the presence of this snake is an important sign of poorly managed garbage in urban areas. I also realised that the snake was climbing up aiming for the dustbin of our first-floor neighbour, which is also where a lot of rats roamed around. Russell’s vipers multiply much faster and are highly venomous from the time they are born. 

Now that I have introduced you to my herpetology friend, I want to tell another story of a thrilling walk with him. This was in a village in southern Maharashtra, bordering Goa. I was working in a permaculture farm there at that time. My friend visited us one day and we were walking through the farm premises in a small group. A large portion of the farm was kept as untouched wilderness as per permaculture principles. We had also created two large pools to store water at an elevation. While walking on the edges of one of those pools, my friend suddenly ran into a bush and then caught something. It was a rat snake. A really long one. He held it carefully and showed it to us who were curious to know more about the snake and how the skin felt. For the first time in my life I too touched a snake. According to my friend, the presence of rat snakes is a sign of a healthy ecosystem. They help keep a check on rats and rodents in agricultural fields. They are non-venomous and pose no threat to human beings.

The third story is of a checkered keelback that frequently visited a small ground-level water tank hosting a huge number of frogs. Again, a non-venomous snake, it became one of our common friends. There is beauty when these snakes are in their natural habitat and follow a diet plan that is not meddled with by us. I definitely do not want a Russell’s viper climbing up my stairs because I failed to take care of my garbage. So, be watchful of how garbage is managed by the adults of your families and push them to do a better job at it.

About the author:

V Manikandan is part of School of Development at the Azim Premji University.