The app was launched by a group of doctors who are experts in snakebite treatment along with snake enthusiasts, wildlife photographers and a few researchers.

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Features Conservation Tuesday, February 09, 2021 - 17:56

Can a snake that bit someone take back its venom from the person’s body? This is a common myth in Kerala where many believe that some experts can make a snake take back its venom. A child growing up in the state hears a thousand stories about snakes. Snake bites are one of the worst nightmares for many. The fear associated with snakes is not easy to get rid of. But a few people are on a mission to break the myths and practices associated with snakes and snakebite.

Four years ago, a group consisting of doctors who are experts in snakebite treatment launched an initiative along with snake enthusiasts, wildlife photographers and a few researchers to put together information about the snakes of Kerala. They started with WhatsApp groups and a Facebook group to help people know about the snakes around us.

Now moving a step ahead, a few days ago the group has launched a mobile application called Snakepedia that provides photographs and details about the snakes in the state. People can also upload pictures of snakes and seek help in identifying them. The group’s expert panel provides immediate support.

The aim of the app is to help the public identify snakes, avail proper treatment on time for snakebites, bust myths about snakes, and protect snakes as well as snakebite victims. However, the group insists that one should seek immediate medical help for snakebites and that the identification of the snake comes only next.

Myths about snakes and treatment

Sandeep Das, a research scholar at the Kerala Forest Research Institute and a research fellow at the Zoological Society of London, who is also a creator of the app, tells TNM, “Though there are around 100 snakes in Kerala, only four species among them are dangerous. Spectacled cobra, Indian krait, Russell’s viper and Saw-scaled viper are the snakes that come under the big four category that are venomous.” But he adds that people think all snakes are dangerous.

There is also a general notion in Kerala that it is important to identify the snake for better treatment in snakebite cases. So, people usually search for the snake soon after someone gets bitten. But is this necessary?

“People tend to kill the snake that bit someone and bring it to the hospital thinking that identification of the snake is necessary for treatment, but this is not true. The anti-snake venom (ASV) helps in all big four snakebites, so it’s not necessary to identify the snake. But people still have that misconception,” says Dr Jinesh PS, one of the founders of the group, who is currently based in Australia.

Dr Jinesh also stresses on the importance of timely treatment. “ASV is the only proven treatment for snakebite. Also, people should understand that instead of wasting time in trying to find the snake or taking its photos, they should seek treatment for the snakebite victim at the earliest,” he adds.

While identification is not necessary for treatment, it is important when it comes to protecting snakes. Identification of the snake is also important for research purposes. It is helpful to study the symptoms and any other medically significant information.

“Most snakes, except for a very few, are not dangerous. Without even knowing whether the snake that bit someone is dangerous or not, people tend to kill them. So proper identification of the snake can protect it,” Dr Jinesh points out.

He notes that when people come for snakebite treatment, majority of the snakes they kill and bring are non-venomous. “On the other side, there are reports of people opting for unscientific treatments and dying as a result. There are cases where people sought treatment with fake naturopaths and lost their life. We launched the app to address both these issues,” Jinesh says.

Sandeep adds that there are many misconceptions about snakes among the public. If there are rings on the snake’s body, people think it’s a krait. If the snake has a triangular head, people think it’s venomous.

Moreover, it’s not easy for people to find information about hospitals that provide snakebite treatment. So the group has included all the contact numbers in the app. The app also provides the expertise of a seven-member team that can help people identify snakes in order to take necessary action.

Snakepedia team

It was a few years ago that Dr Jinesh started a gallery of snakes when working in the Department of Forensic Medicine at the Kottayam Medical College, following a suggestion from the Head of the Department Dr Sasikala.

“Later some snake enthusiasts, photographers and doctors formed a WhatsApp group. There are two groups now… majority of the members are doctors, there are also some experts from across Kerala who treat snakebite,” says Sandeep.

The experts in the WhatsApp groups then started a Facebook group named Keralathile Pambukal. The group has more than 30,000 members now.

“Since then, there were discussions about launching a mobile app. During the lockdown, members of the group invested a lot of time in creating this app and it is finally out now,” Sandeep says.

The app provides details about all venomous and non-venomous snakes. A number of photographs of each snake are included to help users identify them easily. There is also a section that describes snakes that look similar so people can distinguish them easily. Many non-dangerous snakes look similar to dangerous ones, which could make people harm them out of fear.

The app also gives details about first aid after snakebite, hospitals that provide treatment as well as contact details of authorised snake rescuers.

One section in the app busts false information and myths about snakes that are popular in our society. More than 50 common myths about snakes are busted in the app, with scientific clarification.

There are around 20 members in the group’s core committee who are behind this venture.

“To identify a snake, researchers usually look at their scales and patterns. But our app has been designed in such a way that common people can also identify the reptiles,” Sandeep says.

He believes that the app will be accepted by the public as there is more awareness about wildlife rights and rules in Kerala. “That’s why we have so many snake rescuers, and most people immediately call them when they spot a snake in their premises,” he adds.

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