By Ila Sankrityayan
New Delhi, Jan 17 | Wildlife activists Benhail Antao and Louise Remedios are seen rescuing some of the wildest snake species and other undomesticated animals in Goa in the 10-part adventure series ‘Snakes SOS: Goa’s Wildest’.
From showcasing the rescue efforts of an Indian spectacled cobra trapped deep in a well to saving a gigantic Indian rock python strangled in a fisherman’s net, the series has a number of such eye-opening incidents.
Louise, who runs a wedding planning company, got married to Benhail, a wildlife warden who works in Goa Forest Department’s wildlife rescue squad. Post marriage Louise also started accompanying her husband on rescue missions.
Now, the couple passionately are doing these rescue operations. They shared with IANS their experiences and a few memorable incidents.
Louise says: “I’m married to somebody who has an experience of about 20 years in rescuing not only snakes but different kinds of wildlife. I’ve learned so much, not only about the animal species that he is rescuing but also about how you interact with the people around you, how you would want to ethically rescue an animal like that.”
Benhail adds that for him he is not rescuing wildlife but in fact rescuing the people from their perception of wildlife.
“A snake roaming around your house does not really need rescue. The people need rescue from the snake because their perception is out of fear and the fear is because of lack of knowledge. So, if I can share knowledge and get this fear out of them, maybe then finally down the line, they will realize that the snake is just doing its thing outside your house and it does not really need rescue. But until that happens where people are really aware about their surroundings and snakes around the place, I probably still have to go for the snake call, attend to it and educate people or if it gets worse, we relocate snakes to some place safer,” he adds.
Benhail reminisces about an incident when they once rescued a small baby flying fox which is a fruit eating bat. They are found in South Asia, Southeast Asia, Australia, East Africa, and some oceanic islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans.
He says: “Once we rescued a small baby flying fox which is a fruit eating bat. Its mother had been shot and the young one was clinging on to the mother’s chest, and the mother died, and we had a small baby bat. Then we fostered it and now it’s back in the wild.”
Benhail is trained as a mechanical engineer and rescuing wildlife animals and snakes is not a profession for him but rather a passion.
He explains: “I was around eight or nine years old when I started thinking about why snakes are being killed because people are scared. I started rescuing the snakes that were being killed in my family or in the neighborhood. Then I started rescuing snakes for the forest department.”
“My problem was why are snakes being killed in the first place? I started doing conservation programmes and awareness programmes where people learn about the snakes, their behaviour, their habitat and why they are important for us,” he elaborates.
Rescuing a snake or wild animal is never easy and it involves a lot of risk, when asked by Benhail and Louise about the challenges they face in their rescue operation.
Benhail replies: “Rescuing a snake or a wild animal is very interesting, and every rescue operation is very unique. Every independent species behaves differently. So, if you study the behaviours, all the challenges can be handled very easily.”
But he asserts that the most challenging thing to handle during a rescue is crowd control – controlling human beings around.
“It’s always very weird that just before you reach, somebody else tries to go and grab the limelight in the situation and reaches out to catch a snake. He first of all misidentifies the snake for example he thinks it’s a Python and actually it’s a Russell’s Viper. He then gets bitten by a venomous snake and now I don’t have to only rescue a Russell’s Viper, I’d also rescue the person who’s been bitten by Russell’s Viper and this has happened. It always happens that people do the wrong thing because of various reasons.”
Louise adds another point emphasising that there is another challenge as well, which is danger in possibly handling snakes which can be there is that they are very scared, and they can strike.
“When I started helping Ben in rescues, I realized the danger in possibly handling snakes. Unfortunately, they don’t have that kind of intelligence. Ben is extremely calm. So that calms down the animal because the animal then realizes that I don’t need to defend myself anymore and they’re constantly communicating with a non-verbal communication,” she concludes.
‘Snakes SOS: Goa’s Wildest’ airs on National Geographic at 8 p.m., every Monday and Tuesday.