THE LARGEST NATIONAL CAMPAIGN TO DATE INDIA-WIDE COMMUNITY EDUCATION AND SNAKEBITE MITIGATION PROGRAM
Please support GSI and our longtime, trusted Tamil Nadu-based partners in our effort to save lives and limbs across TWELVE states in India. This massive effort, run by the Centre for Herpetology at the Madras Crocodile Bank, combines rural education, prevention murals and films, incidence data collection, snakebite knowledge surveys, and the distribution of successfully tested prevention kits for agricultural workers.
PREVENTION OUTREACH. DATA COLLECTION. RESEARCH. POLICY.
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The Need for This Project
The Problem in India
A Decades Long Mission
THE PROBLEM IN INDIA
India has the misfortune of being labeled the “Snakebite Capital of the World,” and GSI’s goal, along with our dedicated ground partners, is to remove that distinction community by community.
Of India’s snakebite victims are from rural and agrarian communities. An occupational hazard.
1 in 250
The risk of an Indian dying from snakebite before age 70.
Of annual deaths are children under age 15.
An estimated 58,000 men, women, and children die each year from a snakebite throughout India. The additional toll of nearly 200,000 permanent physical disabilities means the family breadwinner, often a rural farmer, can no longer provide for months, years, or forever. The sale of land, personal possessions, crops, and livestock forces families and often their extended families into financial ruin.
A spectacled cobra (Naja naja) is commonly present in agricultural fields. Despite their role in the human/snake conflict, the conservation of these creatures is ecologically vital, as snakes keep rodent populations in check to allow for thriving harvests. Photo: Gnaneswar Ch.
We’ve met these families and listened to their stories of hardship. For them, snakebites are a reality of surviving an already challenging rural existence.
With more than 300 species of snakes and around 1/5th being venomous, snakebite accidents in India present a complex problem. Visits to traditional healers and lack of hospital transportation add to already high levels of delay in seeking treatment after a bite. Geographic variations in venoms from the same species of snakes lead to less effective antivenoms that are prone to allergic reactions. Snakebite is not a notifiable disease in most hospitals, and this lack of this data is one reason state and national governments haven’t prioritized snakebite. Healthcare workers lack training. The lack of robust prevention and first aid knowledge in communities and among at-risk workforces is of great concern.
A large school audience in southern India takes part in the Chennai-based Centre for Herpetology’s community education program.
Therefore, snakebite prevention education is critical. Empowering those at risk with the knowledge to avoid a snakebite is at the heart of this massive campaign spanning twelve states of India. Awareness and education are the “low-hanging fruit” solution to save lives immediately!
Two women harvesting rice are often feet and seconds away from a bite. The highly venomous Russell’s viper is in the foreground.
The family of Periyasamy hold vigil the morning after a Russell’s viper bite while Periyasamy was walking home from work. The snake’s paralytic toxins forced this young father to be ventilated and the family would end up selling a portion of their property to pay for his weeklong treatment.
A Decades Long Mission
A man with a history of wholeheartedly advocating for snakebite victims and a dedicated team are poised to launch the largest-scale snakebite community education campaign India’s ever seen.
Rom Whitaker conducting a venom extraction demonstration at the Irula’s Cooperative in Chennai, India.
The Centre for Herpetology at the Madras Crocodile Bank in Chennai (Tamil Nadu), India, has been GSI’s India chapter since 2009. Founded by internationally renowned herpetologist and GSI advisor Romulus “Rom” Whitaker, they’ve been at the forefront of the snakebite mitigation issue for the better part of 50 years. Rom may be familiar to many; after all, he’s been a regularly featured face on snakes and snake conservation on everything from the Discovery Channel to National Geographic.
Long before snakebite gained attention on the global stage, Rom and his dedicated team advocated for victims and policy and passionately promoted the harmonious coexistence between snakes and humans. Community education, awareness filmmaking, improving treatments, and the production of venoms for India’s antivenom manufacturing have been at the core of their mission.
Rom Whitaker collecting venom at the Irula’s Cooperative at the Madras Crocodile Bank in Chennai, India.
Rom opened India’s first snake park in 1972 and, by 1978, co-founded the Madras Crocodile Bank, a center of research education and conservation in southern India. It was also in the 1970s, while extracting venoms for a national antivenom manufacturer, that Rom came into contact with the Irulas tribe. The Irulas had an incredible knack for catching snakes by tracking their movements, but the tribe was in desperate need of income. That gave Rom an idea. The Irulas could catch the snakes and do what Rom did so well — collect their venoms! After several years of bureaucratic hurdles, the Irulas were in business. Long-housed at the Madras Crocodile Bank, the Irulas currently produce 80% of the venoms sold to Indian antivenom manufacturers, with profits split amongst the tribal community. While the work comes with obvious dangers for the Irulas, the lives saved by their efforts each year can’t be overlooked.
Members of the Irulas tribe.
Today, Rom’s team at the Centre for Herpetology is on the frontlines of bringing education messaging to rural communities at risk of snakebite throughout Tamil Nadu with a full suite of printed materials, films, and the painting of prevention murals in villages, while never giving up the push to train snake handlers and forest department staff to rescue and relocate snakes. Their extensive network of educators and herpetologists put them in a perfect position to conduct the largest-ever snakebite education program throughout some of India’s most snakebite endemic regions where prevention messages and community engagement have never reached.
A community-based snakebite education session with rural mothers and daughters.
Rom with his Irula friends. Photo: Janaki Lenin
GSI-USA Board member Lena Kannappan (second from left), a Tamil Nadu native, visits with the Centre for Herpetology’s snakebite mitigation team (Madras Crocodile Bank Director Pramila Rajan, far left, Snakebite Mitigation Program Coordinator Gnaneswar Ch., second from right and Education Officer Steffi John, far right).
THE INDIA SNAKEBITE EDUCATION AND MITIGATION PROJECT
Join our effort to deploy the largest ever community education project across twelve states in India. Your support will make all the following interventions possible. Promoting awareness, prevention, conservation, first-aid and health-seeking behavior messaging is the most immediate and effective way to improve livelihoods.
COMMUNITY EDUCATION PROGRAMS
COMMUNITY EDUCATION PROGRAMS
The Centre for Herpetology’s interactive and tested sessions are conducted primarily in schools and in community gatherings. Each program includes short prevention film screenings, snake identification, home and workplace prevention tips and correct first-aid actions. Educators spend time busting myths and enforcing positive health-seeking behavioral messaging. Printed materials are shared.
CAPACITY BUILDING PROGRAMS
CAPACITY BUILDING PROGRAMS
Capacity building programs are targeted towards first responders (forest department staff, snake rescuers and village health workers) and teachers as part of a ‘train the trainer’ program to reach more people, in more villages, over a broader geographical area.
These surveys are conducted to assess community knowledge of snakes and snakebites in the specific regions the Centre for Herpetology reaches. Surveys are conducted on site before and after interventions and used to monitor and evaluate educational and capacity building programs.
STATE DATA COLLECTION
STATE DATA COLLECTION
Epidemiological and hospital data on snakebite envenoming will be collected from all project locations. This data is used to identify high risk areas and to compare results of program interventions. This data can further be used to quantify impacts of the Centre’s projects.
An agricultural worker proudly wears her new gumboots, which will help prevent a snakebite to her lower extremities.
Your support will fund the acquisition and dissemination of 500 snakebite prevention kits to rural agricultural workers in Tamil Nadu and other identified regions in other states.
The kits include a pair of gumboots, a flashlight (for nighttime worker safety) and a mosquito net (to prevent noctural snakes from entering the bed).
In 2021, the Centre for Herpetology distributed 150 kits as part of a usability study which found nearly 100 percent of participants used the flashlights as part of their work for more than 90 days, with nearly 70 percent using the gumboots and mosquito nets for more than 90 days.
The kits are provided to workers desperate to reduce their chances of a snakebite while earning their living, but who would otherwise not be able to afford protective footwear.
The Centre for Herpetology will continue their highly-effective and colorfully-visual snakebite murals throughout the twelve project states. Walls from public gathering areas such as schools, bus stops and community halls will be painted with engaging prevention and first aid messaging. This is a means of indirect intervention that remain in place with high-traffic reach.
Rom and the team have been passionate about disseminating short films as a prevention tool and they’re the best form of education, both for in-person programs and through social media and WhatsApp distribution. These informative, engaging and often dramatic shorts are already made and translated. Funding is needed to dub them into 11 critical languages to reach rural populations, with two films in areas of Northeast India never before reached.
Films like these are used to educate those at risk and to help inform policymakers in key regions. Your support helps ensure these tools are translated and dubbed into a variety of languages.
ABOUT OUR PARTNER
THE CENTRE FOR HERPETOLOGY, MADRAS CROCODILE BANK TRUST
The Madras Crocodile Bank Trust and Centre for Herpetology (or Croc Bank) was the brain child of the legendary Romulus Whitaker and a handful of like-minded conservation visionaries who began work on the facility in 1976, in a desperate effort to save India’s dwindling crocodilian populations. Today, after more than 30 formidable years of cutting edge science and grassroots education, the Croc Bank remains a world leader in the field of frontline conservation and the preservation of natural landscapes.
The Croc Bank currently consists of a large reptile park near Chennai, Southern India, and several field projects located throughout the subcontinent reaching as far afield as the Nicobar Islands. The zoo sees close to half a million visitors per year making it one of the most popular tourist attractions along the famous East Coast Road.
Their mission is promote the conservation of reptiles and amphibians and their habitats through education, scientific research and captive breeding.
Through the Centre’s Snake Conservation and Snakebite Mitigation project, the team works in multiple spheres towards mitigating the far reaching effects of this most neglected of tropical diseases.
Along with our partners, we have conducted hundreds of workshops across India for school children, agricultural communities, Forest Department officials and others with a focus on living around snakes safely.
The cornerstone of the program is the educational materials that have been created and translated into several regional languages. These include short films on snake safety and first aid, posters and handouts.
Will You Band Together with GSI?
We are in need of a committed team of champions to alleviate this unspeakable suffering. Will you band together with GSI-USA’s global network of experts by becoming a GSI-USA Champion today? Your investment in our programs will save lives and limbs, and can change the trajectories of entire families and communities.