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Monday, March 27, 2017

Snake buddies: This Hyderabad NGO is busting myths, rescuing the reptiles for over two decades

Friends of Snakes Society attends to around 200 calls every day to rescue snakes that wander into urban spaces.

It was in the late 1980s that Rajkumar Kanuri, a resident of Hyderabad, and a bunch of his friends, had a small idea.

Troubled by the way in which snakes were being chased or killed when they began entering ever-expanding urban spaces, the group decided to take steps to conserve the reptiles, at least in their own society. 

Almost 30 years later, what started off as a small experiment in Secunderabad's Sainikpuri area, has spread across the state of Telangana today, actively working for the conservation of snakes. 

Today, the Friends of Snakes Society (FOSS) is relatively well-established in Hyderabad, and attends close to 200-300 calls every day, to rescue snakes that wander into urban spaces.

Besides rescue and relocation of the reptiles, FOSS also holds several educational and awareness programs in schools, colleges and companies, besides also working with the Forest Department to curb anti-poaching activities.

Speaking to Hyderabad News, Avinash Visvanathan, Chief Functionary of the organisation says, "By around 1992-93, we started holding several awareness programs, busting myths that people generally have, where snakes are concerned. In 1995, we formally registered the organisation."

Avinash says that the initial days were tough, and their activities were restricted just to Secunderabad until around 2000. 

"Our initial movement grew only through word of mouth. If someone found a snake, someone would inform them that there was this group that rescued them, and they would pass the message to someone else and so on," he says.

"It was very restricted in the initial days. When we had grown to around 20-30 members, the media picked up on us, and this gave us a major boost," he adds.

In 2010, the organisation was dealt a personal blow when its founder, Rajkumar Kanuri, passed away due to cerebral malaria.

"We lost a great leader with an even better outlook. It did come as a shock to us, but the organisation has continued growing," says Avinash.

Today, the organisation has around 70 volunteers and a 24x7 helpline, which puts them just a call away.

Two people coordinate the helpline, and the organisation has spread its roots to five districts in Telangana, besides having a firm foothold in the entire area of Hyderabad.

In October last year when a snake brought things to a halt in Hyderabad's crowded KBR park junction, it was the FOSS that stepped in to diffuse the situation.

Even during the heavy rains that lashed Hyderabad last year, when several people found large snakes entering their houses along with the flood water, it was the FOSS that stepped in and worked tirelessly to rehabilitate several of these reptiles.

The FOSS wants to change the apathy that people have towards snakes. Most snakes in India are non-venomous, and often pay the cost for human ignorance, the organisation says.

"Regular awareness sessions have certainly helped a lot since we first set up. At least now, people call us, instead of looking for a stone or stick to kill the snake," Avinash says.

When asked about FOSS' future plans, he adds, "We are in no hurry to expand, but we do want to cover the entire state of Telangana, before branching out to other places."

The FOSS helpline can be contacted at +918374233366.

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