Seoni’s Myth Busters
Read how Seoni’s ‘Flying Squad’ has been changing attitudes of the local farming communities towards human-snake conflict in Madhya Pradesh.
Photo Courtesy: Arpit Mishra
A few years ago if farmers in Madhya Pradesh’ Seoni Circle came across a snake in their fields or barns there would be utter panic. Armed with farming implements, they would hack the serpent to death, completely oblivious to the reptile’s ecological importance and protected status under the Wild Life Protection Act, 1972.
In 2014, the then Chief Conservator of Forest Sanjay Shukla identified three young and dynamic members of the Forest Department and established the Flying Squad, Seoni. Under Shukla’s guidance, Arpit Mishra, Vivek Mishra and Mukesh Tiwari were trained in basic first aid, learned to rescue and release snakes, and began to engage with local communities. Soon the squad’s helpline number was ringing off the hook, and they were racing across the Seoni Circle to attend to distress calls. Since being established, the Flying Squad has rescued and released hundreds of venomous and non-venomous snakes and educated an equal number of civilians on the importance of snakes, their conservation, and snakebite management and mitigation.
The team has concertedly been working with Seoni’s farming communities to transform negative attitudes towards snakes by busting unfounded fears and dangerous myths and instead cultivating a spirit of interest and co-existence. Their practical approach has ultimately won the confidence of several members of the community. Farmers Vinod Tiwari and Akhilesh Awasthi have been so moved by the team’s efforts and convinced of the role of snakes in controlling crop-destroying rodents that they have given their consent to the team to release snakes rescued from neighbouring properties into their fields! Along a similar vein, farmer Abhinav Baghel has taken up the baton of snake conservation and has begun to lobby others in his village to not harm the snakes that they find in their fields; while school teacher Jivan Sanodiya has compiled information on basic snake ecology and biology which he is using to dispel superstitions that pervade in the community.