On an uncomfortably hot evening in the middle of March this year, I walked down a deserted lane in Thiruvanthapuram, Kerala, to a thatched house. After being invited inside, I made myself comfortable on a sun-bleached chair. Underneath the chair on which I was seated, was a plastic jar containing a cluster of snake eggs. Seven such identical jars with red lids, each home to a hundred distorted snake eggs, were strewn across the 100 square feet that made up wildlife conservationist Vava Suresh’s living room. “Often after catching a female from the burrow, the eggs are left behind. On their own, these would perish so I bring them home. These would only hatch by mid-April, May,” he said reassuringly to me in Malayalam, as he tapped a giant jar next to him.
When he reached into his bag, I feared more eggs or worse, live snakes. Instead he dug out a soiled linen tote bag and from it a two-year old Android phone—which he still carries in the cardboard box it came in—to show me the administrator interface on the application called King Cobra.
The app allows him to trace the shortest distance between him and a snake-spotter by employing Google maps. Developed by Sparknova Technology, a company based in Thiruvananthapuram, and downloaded by over ten thousand users, it has helped this self-taught snake-catcher to plan his daily itinerary.
“On an average I get around 100 to 150 distress calls per day. Of these, around 50 calls are through the application whereas the rest are direct phone calls. A survey conducted in a local Malayalam newspaper said that over 35 lakh people have saved my number on their mobile phones making it one of the most common numbers in the state,” he told me. Apart from placing an urgent call, the app also allows the user to click a picture of the snake and send it to Suresh for an instant response to determine its nature. If it is venomous and Suresh decides to help a customer out, then the app gives him direction to the location while he kick starts his Honda Activa. A little green circle with his name stealthily meanders through the route on the map, enabling the customer to track Suresh’s journey. “This app has helped me, because earlier I couldn’t prioritise my calls. The picture helps in this process. For instance, if it’s a rat snake (non-venomous) then I can easily skip that one and travel to the next distress call,” he said.
I could hear a dog incessantly bark from his open kennel in the frontyard. Suresh occasionally raised his voice, but his charm did not quite seem to work with dogs. It was 8 pm, and he had just returned home after rescuing nine snakes from around three districts in Kerala. He told me that had caught 65 king cobras already this year, and in total, rescued 49,010 snakes that had strayed into homes, offices and backyards. “I also look at where the snake has been found to prioritise. First, I attend to the ones that have entered the house. If the snake is found across the field, or in a faraway yard, then I push those cases to the bottom. A lot of people these days also send me pictures and videos of snakes via Whatsapp. The phone keeps beeping through the night as well,” he said proudly.