Working with the rich ecosystems, of the lesser-explored ghat regions, is the Eastern Ghats Wildlife Society (EGWS), which strives to make a positive difference in Visakhapatnam. Murthy Kantimahanti, the Founder, shares the story.
“Our vision is to establish harmonious relation between humans and wildlife.”
The Eastern Ghats Wildlife Society (EGWS) was founded in 2014 as a science-driven conservation NGO in Visakhapatnam. Working at the grassroots level, its main objective is human wildlife conflict mitigation. Working throughout the Eastern Ghats, which spread along Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Odisha, the NGO is based out of Visakhapatnam. A five-member-team along with 30 volunteers, devote their time working on ground in the Visakhapatnam, Guntur, Krishna,Srikakulam and Vizianagaram regions. Their area of work encompasses wildlife conservation of the lesser known species like snakes, pangolins, other small mammals and reptiles.
“India is where a lot of snakebite deaths happen, mostly in agriculture and rural communities.”
With that being the case, Murthy feels often it is the lack of awareness, on prevention and action, becoming the underlying cause. Therefore, EGWS’s major focus is on addressing this gap. Additionally, the conservation of the King Cobra is their flagship initiative. Murthy laments how this longest venomous snake is worshipped on occasions like Nagulu Chavithi, only to be killed the very next day. He believes that sustainable solutions can only be achieved when one works with people, and initiatives are community-based and problem-oriented. So, while the team responds during cases of snake sightings, and rescues the reptiles, it more importantly engages communities in conserving species.
“Wildlife conservation isn’t much of dealing with animals, but more about working with people.”
With most threats being human-induced, the team talks to rural, tribal and urban communities through snake awareness programs, which are held at school-level too. The team has also provided training on safe snake rescuing and provided gumboots, torches and other tools to certain communities. Working closely with the Andhra Pradesh Forest Department, EGWS spreads awareness and stresses on the importance of equipping hospitals and primary health centers with antivenom.
“In most cases, deaths happen because of not doing the right thing in the event of a snake bite.”
Though hundreds of snakebite cases are being reported in districts like Krishna and Guntur each year, Murthy shares that envenomation is just in tens, and deaths are only two to four. These deaths usually happen because the victim wasn’t given the antivenom on time. However stressing that prevention is always better than cure, he goes on to share a few tips on safety.
“A majority of snakes are non venomous in nature. Their bites are harmless, and washing with soap and water, followed by applying an antiseptic is enough. The most common venomous snakes are the Common Cobra, Russell’s Viper, Saw-scaled Viper and Common Krait. Called the Big Four, these are highly adaptable and can live under our noses. However, they would not bite, unless they perceive a threat.
Venomous or not, snakes shouldn’t be killed, as they help in keeping the rodent/ frog population under control. They are friends to the farmer, while the venomous snakes like the King Cobra keep the population of other snakes under control. The first thing to do when you see a snake is to move away. In the case of a snakebite, one must try to move the person as little as possible and rush to the hospital for antivenom. Prevention is always better than cure, and wearing gum boots when working in farms, keeping surroundings clean, or using torchlights when walking in the dark can go a long way.”
“Compared to 2015, when they would kill snakes on sight, people are now taking pictures and sharing instead.”
A slow yet steady change in the society has definitely begun, he asserts. And while the challenges of having a committed staff and the lack of capacity building and resources do exist, support is now coming in. With future plans to work on conserving other reptiles as well, the days to come will see more trainings, workshops and awareness camps. Having received the Disney Conservation Grant, and as international conservation partner with Houston Zoo, USA, the road ahead beckons EGWS with promise.
Ideas to set up a conservation center for people to come and learn, and a field center to carry out conservation oriented research, is also on the cards. However, EGWS still needs to address certain gaps. Murthy feels that more dedicated people, and the ability to monetize and incentivise rescues, will go a long way. The road for Murthy Kantimahanti and EGWS is long and winding, and he’s geared up for what lies ahead.
Starting the EGWS
Having grown up in the green environs of Simhachalam, a love for animals in the wild was imbued into Murty Kantimahanti right from the start. From participating at snake shows, done by his uncle at the zoo, to seeing wildlife flourish around him, he saw the number of animals reducing and disappearing as he grew older. That’s when he decided to do something for the wildlife in his backyard. With a Masters in Zoology, from the Andhra University, he went on to be part of an 18-month training programme at Florida, USA, on ‘Emerging Wildlife Conservation Leaders’. Having participated in other such programs, he finally returned to the Eastern Ghats, to work on the lesser explored wildlife and thus sowed the seed for the Eastern Ghats Wildlife Society in Visakhapatnam.