Following the discovery of a mind boggling 402 cobras in Rajshahi, Satkhira and Bhola over the span of just two and a half months, residents of the three districts are left to wonder: is death from snakebite next?
These fears are rampant after residents of two separate Satkhira villages in the Sadar and Ashashuni upazilas beat some 76 snakes to death after discovering them in their houses this week.
Another 152 cobras were discovered and killed in various locations in Rajshahi, including 125 alone in Akkas Ali's kitchen in Rajshahi's Tanore on July 6. Another 27 were found in Majdar Ali's house in Budhpara on July 4.
In Bhola's Kondrokpur village, 180 snakes were found and killed earlier after a nest was discovered under one of the houses.
When 125 cobras are discovered in a single home, or 180 from just one village, the natural question becomes: Why are snakes living so close to human settlements, and is this nuisance getting worse?
Easy sources of food near human homes
Dr Monirul H Khan, associate professor of zoology at Jahangirnagar University, said that the recent phenomenon was not unusual.
“Snakes like cobras live all over the country, and they are known for settling near human habitats because of the prevalence of rats near human homes. The recent cases do not show an increase, they are pretty common numbers,” he said.
“Villagers store grains like rice in their bedrooms, and their poultry shelters provide a home for the snakes. The snakes also like to live in holes in the mud floors, or in the small bushes around village houses,” Khan added.
“Wherever you will find a rat population, there are bound to be snakes as well.
“Each snake can lay up to 50 eggs. If all of these hatch, you have 50 babies. They usually return to the forests when the food runs out,” he also added.
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These cobras, which came out of a Rajshahi's Tanore upazila kitchen, were beaten to death by house owner and the locals Dhaka Tribune
Peak snake season?
When asked if it was peak snake activity season, Dr Monirul H Khan replied that snakes and other reptiles thrived during this weather and the time of the year.
He told the Dhaka Tribune: “The recent snake killings have mostly been people killing baby snakes. They usually live in a group, and snakes breed during the monsoon, so the increase in snake sightings are normal.”
Firoz Sardar, a prominent snake charmer in Savar, said: “During this time of the year, the paddy fields and forests usually flood, so the snakes in there go and hide in the houses. This is also their breeding season, so they look for high ground to lay their eggs.”
Snakes are an integral part of ecosystems since they help to keep rodent and insect populations in check, said the President and founding member of the Wildlife Conservation Team of Bangladesh Md Quamruzzaman Babu, who also runs a Facebook page named Snakes of Bangladesh.
He said: “When people find a single snake, they immediately go all out in trying to kill it, because they are afraid of dying from snakebites. If only they let it go without hurting it, they would not come to any harm at all, and that is why we need to raise awareness about snakes and their environmental value.
“Because of the lack of awareness, sometimes people even kill non-venomous snakes out of fear. This causes disruptions in the ecosystem and the food-chain if snake populations are diminished. Snakes are vital to the ecosystem, and they are extremely valuable as natural pestkillers,” he added.
Professor Dr Monirul H Khan also confirmed the importance of snakes to the ecosystem, and urged their protection.
Snake charmer Firoz Sardar told the Dhaka Tribune that he was disheartened to hear about the recent killings of snakes around the country.
He said: “We earn our living through the snakes. When people kill them indiscriminately without knowing if they are harmful or not, it risks causing incredible damage to our environment as well.”