Bangalore urban receives an average of 30 emergency calls on a daily basis, concerning wildlife rescues in the city. The animals in need is most commonly a bird or a reptile with the occasional call about a wild cat or other mammals. Sanjeev, our chief herpetologist, is on the BBMP Forest Cell team that handles the bulk of these emergencies and explains how sympathetic management and the trending ‘cool factor’ to rescue is jeopardizing the very survival of wildlife.
Let us take the example of snakes – shrouded in stereotype, they are the nerve center of exaggeration and controversy.
Humans have an embedded mindset that believes a rescued snake must be put back in the forest where it came. This way of thinking does not ring true as snakes have been living alongside humans for as long as we have both existed. The conflict, however, has escalated only in recent years due to reasons of growing intolerance and rapid urbanisation.
Translocation (releasing a rescued animal in a new location and/or habitat different from where it was picked up) has adverse consequences on both ecosystems (location of rescue in cities; and location of release into forests).
Effects on humans:
The rescue site will see an exponential spike in rodent population as a natural consequence of eliminating the predator. This intensifies the spread of disease by the increasing rodent population who quickly destroy our stored grain and crop cycles and put a direct strain on our food source. The absence of the rescued snake means an increase in the number of rats, this also invites other local snakes who come in to take advantage of this new food source.
Effects on snake:
Away from home range and finding itself in unfamiliar habitat, the snake must start from scratch to establish its sources of food, water, shelter and local knowledge of its predators. This leaves the snake wandering around for months using the trial and error method, thus increasing the potential for human-animal conflicts, now emerging as a vicious cycle. There is also enhanced conflict between the newly released snake and resident snakes of the local habitat, the survival of both are at great risk. A snake from the city could also be a carrier of various diseases.
Effects on ecosystem:
In one move, translocation disrupts the local food chain and natural order of resident species at rescue and release location, thus unbalancing both ecosystems. It is clear that releasing a rescued snake as far away as possible is merely a false safety measure that serves neither the snake nor humans. Whether it stems from a lack of education and awareness or is an indulgence of deep seated fears, rescuers cannot employ sympathetic management in place of common sense. They depend on the understanding and tolerance of everyday citizens to be able to manage urban wildlife in the correct manner.
Snakes are an integral component of the urban ecosystem and will continue to appear and disappear from our sight. We believe that the question is not the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of urban wildlife rescue, rather the why of it. The next time you encounter a snake in your garden and immediately call for help, take a minute to think of who is in actual need of rescue – the snake, or you?
Widespread basic awareness and relevant safety protocol is a more realistic approach to their management, a little tolerance will go a long way in saving both species from the futile and damaging exercise of translocation.
Go here to read about how the balance between venomous and non-venomous snakes affects the urban ecosystem.