Stranger in the city

Caught up in the day’s usual hurry, the rescue calls pass by without much flare. I have even developed a standard script that helps me assess the real danger faced by both animal and human. More often than not, a snake would have wound up in the extreme corner of a garden, probably hunting down a rat; a more common location being in the gutter or drainage outside.

In such cases, we deem it unnecessary to progress with the ‘rescue’ as neither party is in need of expert intervention. The snake will move along just as it landed up there, unwittingly. In order to be able to filter out the real emergencies from false alarms, my first and immediate question is – where is the snake, inside or outside?

One afternoon I received a frantic call from a home in Vijayanagar. On asking my primary question, she reported that a multi-coloured snake was stuck upside down on her roof! Ignoring the obvious exaggeration regarding colour, I inferred that the only way this was possible was on a tiled roof or hut. However, when I asked her about this, she insisted that it was a concrete establishment, a garage where the family parked their vehicles.

What she was describing defied all logic, going against literally everything I knew about rescue and snakes from the past six years! This left me amazed, puzzled and no doubt, very curious. Assuming she had made a blaring error in judgement, I patiently questioned her once more on what type of animal she was seeing and whether it was a snake at all. This line of interrogation was met with a curt ultimatum – to stop wasting her time with questions and do my job, or she would call for help elsewhere.

That over-confident response was exactly the jolt I needed to spring into action. Rushing to the house, I found that it neighboured a mixture (chow-chow) factory that had been a habituated site for cobra rescue over the years. Still a bit unsure of what to expect, however, I entered the house with slight hesitation only to take in the incredible sight of a magnificent, 2 feet long ornate flying snake, upside down on the garage roof; her apparently ‘unbelievable’ report was true to each word.

Astonished to see this specimen – at least 400 kilometers away from home – in the middle of chaotic Bangalore city, thoughts raced through my mind at an unprecedented speed.

Specimen post rescue, safely contained

Some background about the ornate flying snake will give you an insight to my confusion. Non-venomous in nature, this exquisitely coloured snake’s habitat ranges from rainforest, dry and mixed deciduous or coastal forest (none of which can be found in the city). It thrives in thick vegetation and prefers high branches, tree holes or crevices for roosting.

Being arboreal, the ornate flying snake is named after its own amazing ability to glide short distances as a method of escape. The snake is light in body weight, its anatomy designed to incorporate a parachute like belly that offers good resistance to mechanical shocks received on falling from a height. All this is well and good but here is where it gets truly interesting..

The ornate flying snake is widely distributed across the Western Ghats, also found in Bihar, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and the Seven Sisters. Being more common to east, than south India, you can now comprehend my surprise on encountering this flying snake in some random garage in the city. The extraordinary nature of the situation only reminded me that I had to collect myself and not rush through rescue protocol.

Knowing fully well that the ornate flying snake is lucrative in exotic pet trade, I had to tread ahead with caution. I began to carefully interrogate the lady who had called in the rescue, asking direct and indirect questions to somehow assess what kind of people lived here, were there other specimens on the premises, did I need to call for backup etc.

The media covered this story extensively
This story of the ‘Stranger in the City’ caught the media’s attention, they covered it extensively.

As she began to retrace her steps, she happened to mention that she had come into the garage to collect prasadam that her husband brought back from Kukke Subramanya. Having thoroughly navigated and herped the length and breadth of the Western Ghats, I was more than familiar with Kukke, Kumaraparvatha, associated trekking trails and the wildlife found there. It was at this point that the story unraveled.

Her husband had recently driven up to the pilgrim town of Kukke Subramanya. He parked the car by the riverside while there and the arboreal snake must have slithered; travelling 400 kilometers to Bangalore without even knowing it!

My extended love affair with the majestic Western Ghats had me visiting frequently on work. These trips, rescue and other interactions secured me a place in the good books of the Forest Department at Kukke. I called and set up a date; with all the arrangements made, I enjoyed my few days with this legendary serpent before having to release it back into its rainforest home.

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