Majestic Indian Cobra - a gentleman !!!

July 18th, 2008

Majestic Indian Cobra

© Capt Suresh Sharma. All Rights Reserved

A couple of days ago, I decided to have a bit longer night while working on some important issues. At about 0130 hours, I got a call from a young lady, asking if I am Capt Suresh Sharma from the Snake Cell. First, I was a bit skeptical, as it was worrisome to hear a young stranger girl on phone at unearthly hour. First, I thought it was the usual effect of the snake article of the day in the Times of India, where I was part of the article, usually its followed by few such phone calls. So, I reacted in usual manner and waited to hear her first, to know if there was a snake actually. She told me that there was a snake, I had to assess the situation i.e. the gravity of the emergency, type of snake, whether call is hoax or real, any security required, and made her comfortable on phone that she need not worry about the snake, it will not jump on her or chase her, just stand at about five feet and lest he goes off her sight. Finally, on my arrival on the scene, I caught a small common krait. You may refer this photo of Common Krait.

After delivering a sort of lecture about snakes and snakebite to the family, I got back home at about 0315 hours, by the time I washed my hands and face to get ready to sleep, it was 0340 hours. Thought, I should check my mails etc. before I go to sleep, as I would be getting up late in the morning. The moment I sat in my chair, my telephone rang up once again. Now, I got a bit jittery, suspecting the call from the girl who called me for snake rescue. As I know, this act of handling snakes mesmerizes young girls and they do get swayed. To my surprise, there was another call for ‘snake rescue’, I had to ask the gentleman that what was he doing at 0330 hours. He told me that while he was going to washroom in his house, he heard a loud hiss under the washbasin in veranda. He was quite shaky when he spoke to me. I asked for transport as I was too tired to drive my own. On my arrival at the sight where snake was hiding, I discovered it was a big healthy cobra hiding behind a flowerpot. I coaxed him to come out and he did oblige me like a gentleman. Now we both were face to face, me with tong and hook, cobra equipped with his well hidden lethal fangs inside his nice hood. Being a gentleman, he warned me enough to be left alone in peace. It was looking majestic, a handsome cobra indeed. I bagged the cobra and left at the same house under an iron pot, to pick up during the day.

Next day, I invited Gurbir Singh Brar a very spirited, passionate and enthusiastic Flickr friend. He loves photography as much as I like and love it. I like two things about him, he is passionate about photography, secondly he loves to work with good camera equipment. It’s a very good quality, which many people do not have, in spite of the fact that some have money and love photography, but no vision and heart to buy good equipment.

Early morning, we were out and had a nice session with our handsome Cobra model. It was challenging me with its loud and clear hiss, majestically erected hood. Suddenly, with heavy overcast, light had gone bad and had to use Speedlite flash. I treated him with water to drink, so he was ready to pose. After some time, cobra understood that we mean no harm to him and was quite calm and gentle. It’s a technique to communicate and assure them that you mean no harm.

It was the first photo session for Gurbir with any snake. He was quite excited. More you may ask him yourself

To most of you, it will look like a risky photo session. Most will say, I must have overlooked my own “safety book”. No, I will never overlook that.

I love this shot.


© Capt Suresh Sharma. All Rights Reserved

Photography Tips:

1. With my experience, I can say that cobra is one of the best Indian snakes for photography. I would like to mention here that its known as ‘Good Snake’ – in Tamil Nadu state of India its called `Nalla Pamboo’ `nalla’ means good, `pamboo’ means snake. Mainly, its posture, when its hood is erect, makes it a very handsome majestic snake and you are bound to make good photographs. I do not mean you do not get good photos with other snakes, they do have their own beauty and attractive features and postures.
2. Cobra raises its hood, basically, to warn you to stay away from him and requesting to give him way to escape. As, I have mentioned before as well, they are not interested in you, as you are not their food. They always like to avoid any such confrontation. Also, they are more scared of you, than what you are of them.
3. Since they perceive threat to their life, from your very presence itself and your movements alarm and scare them badly, so they need to have assurance from you that you will no harm them, before you deploy your `camera arsenal’. For this, you need to establish communication with them, which doesn’t mean a verbal dialogue, in any case they can not hear as they do not have ears. Your message can be conveyed silently, while being a gentleman with them that they are in safe hands.
4. Once you have done that then they are like your pets. But they are very strict about discipline, still no liberty, you can not cross the safety limits. Do not forget, the only permission or consent you got for being a gentleman is that you can photograph them within certain limits. Its like getting a beautiful model in bikini for a professional photo shoot, messing beyond that be seeking serious trouble!! That you all know well. So, let me reiterate, there will be moments of temptations while having photo session with your snake models too, as they too look pretty and attractive. As a photographer you would like to shoot all those great angles and get closer and closer or touch them even.
5. Do not expose them for too long under the Sun and on a hot surface, they are delicate and will die with such exposure. Do give them rest after every angle.
6. Do carry a five to six feet long stick, with a piece of hanging cloth at one end. So, your snake handler can draw snake’s attention and change his poses and postures, as you need compose.

How to Differentiate Between Venomous and Non-venomous Snakes?

April 24th, 2008

© Capt Suresh Sharma. All Rights Reserved

Common Krait Bungarus caeruleus

Often, during my lectures on `snakes and snakebite’, or on the street or by guests at home, I am confronted by this commonly asked question `how to identify a snake’ or `how to differentiate between a venomous or non-venomous snake’. I think most of them expect me to give them a `quick fix’ answer – snakes those are black or hissing are venomous etc. Its not true, there is no short cut to know about which one is venomous, other than learning by practice – seeing them time and again, all snakes of one particular species look alike. So, all cobras will look alike, when confronted by a human being’s sudden appearance, they raise their hood, all Russell’s Vipers have the same kind of markings and hiss loud, all common kraits are black with twin bands on their body, all rat-snakes are alike, etc. So, you can learn about how to identify a snake, under trained eyes of an expert who is good at handling snakes or anyone who knows about snakes well.

CAUTION: As a common man, you must not even try to identify a snake, it solves no purpose. Just follow one rule of thumb: maintain a safe distance from a snake and stay away from its striking range, which is approximately one third of the total body length of the snake in your proximity. For a common man, snake is a snake!

In the past, I have seen, with poor knowledge of snakes, many snake handlers have got into trouble – mistaken identity ! Often a Russell’s Viper is mistaken for python baby, saw-scaled viper as common cat snake, common krait as wolf snake, etc. This can be a seriously dangerous and fatal mistake. Such incidents have occurred but not recorded so far. Whenever there is a Russell’s Viper sighted in my town, people often call and say that they have spotted a python baby. And I know that its Russell’s Viper and caution them to stay away at a safe distance and keep an eye till I reach.

On the lighter side: the Indian politicians, who have red or blue beacons and flags on their cars as VIPs, are the most dangerous `animals’ and can be identified with those signs, they are the `venomous snakes’ (synonym to evil) in real terms, attack others unprovoked. Sadly, these two-legged animals are out of synch on this planet. No other animal lives outside the rules of our eco-system, to cause anykind of destruction. There is no other animal which is so arrogant, as humans. And not surprised, now humans have started paying the price, most of us are affected by disease. And may be on the brink of self-annihilation.