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Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Snakepedia: Kerala now has a mobile compendium of all facts on its snake varieties

The application is the result of years of painstaking research and documentation by a diverse team of clinical doctors, scientists, photographers and wildlife enthusiasts settled in different corners of the globe on a purely voluntary basis.

Written by Vishnu Varma | Kochi |
Updated: February 8, 2021 7:30:10 pm
Many fascinating nuggets of information can be found in Snakepedia, an exhaustive mobile app dedicated to snakes in Kerala.

Did you know that the Malabar Pit Viper, a venomous snake found in evergreen, semi-evergreen hill forests and plantations in Kerala, can appear in almost 15 different colour morphs — from greenish to golden yellow to brown and golden brown hues? Or that, contrary to assumptions, there has not been a single recorded case of a snake bite casualty in Kerala from the King Cobra, the world’s longest venomous snake?

These, and many more, fascinating nuggets of information can be found in Snakepedia, an exhaustive mobile app dedicated to snakes in Kerala. The application is the result of years of painstaking research and documentation by a diverse team of clinical doctors, scientists, photographers and wildlife enthusiasts settled in different corners of the globe on a purely voluntary basis.

While there have been mobile apps in the past which have explored snake species in the state, Snakepedia is perhaps the most exhaustive and user-friendly platform, helping to coalesce not just basic information of snakes for the average layman, but also a wide range of details such as first aid for bite cases, contact numbers of rescuers and hospitals and breaking myths and superstitions around snakes. The app, promoted by the likes of Congress MP Shashi Tharoor and state finance minister TM Thomas Isaac, has predictably racked up close to 25,000 downloads on PlayStore in just four days of its launch.

Dr Jinesh PS, one of the key brains behind the app, said, “We have been hearing news of children dying in snake-bite cases due to unscientific reasons. That’s on one side. On the other side, people bring the snake that they beat to death to the hospitals along with snake-bite victims. That’s totally unnecessary because in India, 99.99% of deaths as a result of snake bite are due to just four species of snakes: Krait, Cobra, saw-scaled viper and Russell’s viper. The antivenom to the poison of all these snakes is the same, so there’s really no need to identify the species of the snake. There’s no difference in treatment, only symptoms and test results matter.”

“So on one side, there are deaths of people and on the other side, snakes get killed for no reason. It was in this context that we decided to build the app as part of creating awareness. From 2014-15, we have had a Facebook group with around 30,000 members where discussions about snakes and bite cases regularly take place. We also have two WhatsApp groups of emergency doctors working in hospitals in Kerala where we help to identify snake bite marks for further diagnosis and treatment. When the doctor realises that it’s the bite of a non-venomous snake, there’s a sense of relief,” he said, stressing that people must not delay seeking medical help at hospitals in case of a snake bite.

While the idea for Snakepedia first cropped up around five years ago, the project picked up pace especially in the last one year, with doctors like Jinesh, settled in Australia, coordinating with a large team of snake experts, photographers and designers in Kerala over WhatsApp groups and Google Meet video calls. They pored through existing data of in-house experts and various scientific journals to document around 105 species of snakes commonly found in the state.

They are classified on the basis of venomous and non-venomous snakes, look-alikes and the habitats in which they are found. Information on each species includes identifying marks, their various colour morphs (if any), status of conservation, average size, habitats, distribution and look-alikes. Text is available in both English and Malayalam along with audio links. Photographs, sourced from various areas of the state, accompany the information. There are even podcasts on topics like anti-snake venom, first aid for bite cases, how to avoid snake-bites, treatment protocol and breaking down popular myths and superstitions associated with snakes.

In a bid to make the app more accessible to the public, the team has also built in an ‘ask expert’ tool where people can upload photographs of snakes or bite marks for the purpose of identification or pose general queries.

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