Many of us have ophidiophobia, the fear of snakes. In fact, it is the most commonly reported phobia among humans, making the availability of facts about this misunderstood creature very important. Help is at hand in the form of four Android-only apps dedicated to snakes launched in Kerala — SARPA, SnakeHub, Snake Lens and Snakepedia.
Kerala is home to over 100 species of snakes that belong to 12 families. Of these, the most common venomous ones are known as the big four: spectacled cobra, Indian krait, Russell’s viper and saw-scaled viper.
The apps, besides featuring scientific facts about snakes, species found in Kerala and their habitat within the state, also include information about dangerous and harmless varieties, dos and don’ts for snakebite, treatment and misconceptions, contact numbers of snake rescuers, as well as hospitals where anti-venom is available. There is also a segment to seek the help of experts. Here are a few highlights:
Snake Awareness, Rescue and Protection App (SARPA) is a venture of Kerala Forests and Wildlife Department in association with Wildlife Trust of India. It is intended to streamline rescue of snakes, to minimise human-snake conflict and create awareness about the reptile. “Although we don’t know the reason behind the sudden influx of apps on snakes, the Department has been on it for sometime because it has been an untouched area. Nobody talked about rescuing snakes, they just kill them eventhough not all snakes are poisonous. We wanted to bring in a system to bring down such incidents,” says Surendrakumar, Chief Wildlife Warden and Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife).
The app was launched in June last year. “There have been several unfortunate instances in the state involving snakes in the recent times,” says Muhammed Anvar, deputy director, State Forest Training Institute, Arippa. Last, year the Forest Department trained officers and volunteers to handle snakes. “Of the 1,150 people who attended the training, 850 got certification, and 290 have registered in the app. Some of them don’t have smartphones while a few are not adept at using mobile applications. So we are giving them weekly online training,” Anvar says. He adds that the list of rescuers, published on the Department’s website, is used by other apps as well.
When a snake is spotted, a photograph is taken and uploaded onto the app. Forest officers and the handlers/rescuers then get an alert. “A picture of the snake’s burrow is enough to identify the location. If a handler doesn’t accept the alert within stipulated time, our staff can assign it to another handler. It will be passed on until the rescue is done,” Anvar explains.
Launched early February 2021, Snakepedia has a team of doctors, snake researchers, photographers and environmentalists behind it.
Says Dr Jinesh PS, who specialises in forensic medicine and is a part of the 20-member core team of Snakepedia, “People die due to snakebite, mainly because they don’t go for proper treatment on time. At the same time, harmless snakes are getting killed. So we started a Facebook group, Keralathile Pambukal Snakes of Kerala in 2015, to create awareness about various aspects related to snakes. It now has over 31,000 members. We also have two WhatsApp groups for doctors working in the casualty wing of hospitals to help them attend to snakebite cases. Snakepedia is an extension of what we have been doing till now. It took a year to fine-tune the whole thing, especially to create content in English and Malayalam.”
In addition to 700-odd images, infographics and articles, the Android-based application has podcasts as well. “We have images provided by 130 photographers and some of them are rare shots. As for the list of hospitals, we have 170 of them, including private hospitals,” says Jinesh, adding that they are exploring the possibility of using Artificial Intelligence in the future.
“All said and done, it is important to note that in the event of a snakebite immediately go to the nearby hospital instead of asking an expert and waiting for a reply. Also, don’t get yourself bitten trying to take a picture of the snake,” Jinesh says.
The “comprehensive database on snakes”, introduced in October, has been developed by Indriyam Biologics, a startup incubated at SCTIMST-TIMed, the technology business incubator at the Sree Chitra Tirunal Institute for Medical Sciences and Technology in Thiruvananthapuram. “It is an education app that has in-depth information of different species of snakes in English and Malayalam. The free data can be used as reference material,” says Dileep Kumar R, director of the startup.
Besides providing a fundamental idea about the reptiles, the app also has provided colour codes.to understand the toxicity of various species: green for non-venomous, yellow for mildly venomous, orange for venomous (usually non-fatal) and red for venomous (potentially fatal).
“This is a preliminary version of the app. We plan to include information about species in other states in respective regional languages. We want to make it an interactive platform. Awareness campaigns about snakes are also being done through the app,” Dileep explains.
An initiative of MVR Snake Park and Zoo at Parassinikkadavu in Kannur district, the app was made available in October. It has the technical support of Lares.AI, a Kochi-based startup, and COSTECH (Kerala State Cooperative Institute of Information Technology Electronics and Communications).
“The park was started in the 1980s as an offshoot of the snake bite treatment centre at Pappinissery, which was opened in 1964. Earlier, those who brought victims of snakebites to the Centre also used to bring the snake, dead, alive or hurt. Even though such instances have come down, not many people know that all snakes are not poisonous. This app will act as a tool to educate people,” says E Kunhiraman, director of the park.
The app is an Artificial Intelligence (AI)-based application for classification and identification of snakes. The database has images of different poisonous snakes found in Kerala and look-alikes. “We have uploaded images of common snakes as of now. The app has on-edge processing, which means that Internet connection is not needed for identification of snakes,” says Mohamed Zakeer, CEO of Larus.AI. Queries can be directed to experts at the Snake Park.