Mumbai: This Nag Panchami, animal welfare activists were happy to note that there were no snake charmers to be seen on Mumbai’s roads. Nag Panchami was on July 26.
“This is good news. It shows that snake charmers are now afraid of coming into Bombay with snakes. They know it’s illegal,” says Sunish Subramanium, of the Plant and Animal Welfare Society (PAWS), Mumbai, which combed the areas of Bhandup, Thane, Kalwa, Mumbra, Andheri and CST for snake charmers.
Under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, it is illegal to keep or display snakes. Till about 10 or 15 years ago, over a 100 snakes were rescued each year in Mumbai during Nag Panchami.
There has been a steady decline in the last five years. “In the last two years we have caught just one or two snakes during the festival,” says Subramanium.
Snake rescuers say this is due to heightened awareness. “People know that it is illegal when snake charmers display snakes. Many are also aware of the cruelty involved,” says Dr Dinesh Vinherkar, a veterinarian and snake expert who works with In Defence of Animals, an animal welfare group.
Snakes that are caught for display have their fangs broken and mouths stitched.
“They are not mammals and don’t drink the milk offered. This is a myth. The milk can go into their lungs and choke them. If it dries up, it forms bacteria and blocks their nostrils. This combined with the haldi and kumkum applied on its head can cause infection to the snake,” says Dr Vinherkar, who along with four of his colleagues patrolled the route from Dadar to Santacruz on Nag Panchami but found no snake charmers.
“People now realise if they worship a real snake they are doing it a disservice,” adds Dr Vinherkar.
Many snake charmers have now turned to using clay and metal snake idols and seem to attract as many devotees.
“One woman who for years used to sit with real snakes in Mulund, now has a big metal idol she displays,” says Subramanium. Groups like PAWS, Thane, have given away metal idols to snake charmers.
“The idea is not to make them lose their livelihood. They should realize there are alternate means and ways to earn a living without being cruel to animals,” says Nilesh Banage, the founder. Banage and his troop also scouted around Thane, Dombivli and Kalwa.