When a unique snake genus was discovered
Oct 23 2013
This year too, many people came from nearby villages and brought different kinds of snakes. These people were not charmers, but they surely had basic knowledge about their reptiles. Therefore, if they had a venomous snake, they would deal with it carefully or defang it, while handling non-venomous snakes with more ease.
Today, there are strict wildlife laws related to snakes. The forest department’s vigilance has also put pressure on age-old traditions and rituals, which are slowly dying anyway. But a decade ago, a lot of people used to bring a variety of snakes to the fair, compared to today. We, as wildlife enthusiasts, used to happily photograph many desert species in a single day. However, being a local person, I was able to convince the snake catchers to take the snakes away from the busy crowd, in isolation.
This year, I noticed a small snake, but I could not identify it. So I took the interesting looking reptile to my friend. He immediately started its external examination and we did photo-documentation. I advised him not to allow the snake to disappear, as we should identify it cautiously. He photographed the snake, while I went to check out a rare Afro-Asian sand snake.
Before I reached my expert friend, he had finished his photography of the unidentified snake and let it go, assuming it to be a glossy bellied racer snake, a common desert snake. Even though he had taken some pictures of the snake, it was not enough for proper recognition as counting the scale arrangement is vital for identification. Sadly, we had lost the rare snake. But the adventure behind the mysterious snake was not over yet.
I was furious with my friend who let the reptile go. It was a fascinating creature and we should have studied it further instead of just calling it a common desert snake. The same evening, we went back to my hometown, some 17 km from the fair’s venue. We decided to search in the night to look for that species of snake. We randomly surveyed an area and found the unidentified snake in the morning, which was nothing short of a miracle. The small snake was purely nocturnal and hid itself in sand. I had never seen this snake before and till date it has been found only few times. We clicked many close pictures of head, tail, dorsal and ventral body for detailed classification. Then we released the snake into the wild.
We checked this newly discovered variety in one of the most prestigious books on snakes — M A Smith. My friend again claimed it as the glossy bellied racer snake. Even though I was beginning to understand snake identification, somehow, I could not agree with him on this snake. He sent all the pictures to one of the most respected snake experts of the country, Ashok Captain, who identified it the as the Sind Longnose Sand Snake (Lytorhynchus paradoxus).
Finally, we wrote a research paper on our finding for the journal of herpetology, Hamadryad. Hence, the enthralling story of discovering a novel species of snake ended and we added a fresh snake genus to our country.
(The writer is a conservation biologist at Tiger Watch, Ranthambore)