The Green Keelback
In all my snake rescues, not once did I come across the green keelback. This gentle reptile remained elusive until a friend found one!
The first time I ever laid eyes on a green keelback was in 1995. I was training to handle non-venomous snakes at the Rajiv Gandhi Zoological Park in Katraj, Pune, or the Pune Snake Park as it is more popularly known, and the green keelback was one of the few species I was allowed to handle.
I don’t remember much about that encounter, but I do recall the snake being quite placid and inoffensive. The green keelback’s nature is unlike its cousin, the checkered keelback, which has rarely, if ever, missed a chance to sink its teeth into me!
About a year later, I was back in Goa rescuing all kinds of snakes from human habitation. On these rescue calls, I encountered many of the same snakes I had trained to handle including checkered keelbacks, common rat snakes, striped keelbacks, common wolf snakes, rock pythons, spectacled cobras and Russell’s vipers. But I never got called to rescue a green keelback.
I never realised how rare the snake might be until 12 years later, when I still hadn’t found a single specimen. I had begun to reduce the number of snake calls that I attended to by then. There were a lot more youngsters rescuing snakes and I found it easier to pass on snake calls to them. This, of course, meant that my already slim chances of finding a green keelback were going to get even slimmer!
Then in May 2013, I got a call from my colleague Amrut Singh. He had just rescued his 15th king cobra and wanted to know if I would like to photograph it. Of course I did! I rushed to his house in Bicholim the next morning. While Amrut readied his equipment for the king cobra session, I casually asked him if he had any other snakes that he had rescued recently.
“Well, I do have a common krait and a green keelback. Do you want to see any of them?” he asked.
“Both please!” I quickly replied, hardly able to contain my joy and excitement at the prospect of seeing a green keelback after so many years of waiting.
Amrut got the common krait out first. It had recently shed its skin and was therefore an excellent specimen for photographing. After photographing the krait, out came the green keelback. I almost held my breath as Amrut slid the snake out of the cloth bag he had kept it in.
It was a healthy, beautiful snake. I clicked away for several minutes. The foot-long (0.3 m.) snake was an excellent model, hardly moving at all. I reviewed the photographs on my LCD screen and was satisfied to see that I had several sharp shots. I then allowed Amrut to put the gentle snake back in the bag.
While the green keelback is certainly a rare snake, it isn’t an impossible snake to find. It is possible that the snake restricts itself to certain kinds of habitats or rarely enters human habitations. Either of these possibilities might make it seem much rarer than it actually is.
Rom Whitaker’s book Snakes of India mentions that the green keelback prefers toads to all other species of prey. This was an interesting piece of information for me since I’ve always believed that many snakes actually avoid eating toads for the distasteful secretions they produce from their parotid glands (an elongated, raised area usually behind the eye).
Rahul Alvares, 33, is a wildlife consultant and snake rescuer based in Goa. He is also the editor of an online newsletter called The Creepy Times. See www.rahulalvares.com
First appeared in: Sanctuary Cub September, 2013.