Aaliya Mir: The woman keeping Kashmiris safe as snakebites increase
On Tuesday, Aaliya Mir, Kashmir’s sole female wildlife rescuer and conservationist, got a phone call from the police control room about a snake slithering through a two-wheeler next to the busy civil secretariat building in Srinagar.
Mir rushed to the spot and began to slowly pull the reptile whose head had clung to the foot flap of a scooty. The snake, apparently frightened by curious onlookers, would not come out of a cavity. After spending nearly 15 minutes, Mir finally brought the creature out and boxed it in, to be released in the wild later.
“It was a six-foot-wide rat snake that had got lodged badly in the scooty. A forceful retraction would have injured the snake," she said. “We had to open the flaps of the scooty and remove it safely."
The snake, Mir learnt, had come on a truck from Jammu and fallen on the road before getting to the scooty.
“The rescue had to be done swiftly because a big crowd was getting restless at the site. The safety of the reptile was important," she told News 18.
Curious and some cranky onlookers started filming Mir dealing with the snake, many clapping in awe as she finished her task.
The wildlife expert has had many such rendezvous with reptiles in the last eight years. Being the first responder to capture animals on the loose, Mir has rescued and released 200 of them back into the wild after they were found breaching human habitations.
Kashmir has broadly two varieties of snakes — the viper, which is fatally venomous, and the non-venomous rat snakes. In Jammu, there have been instances of cobra, Russell’s viper, and krait sightings along with rat snakes.
From April onwards, the snakebite incidents in Kashmir are frequent till October after which the reptiles hibernate. Mir says this year she is getting three to four distress calls in a day as against three in a fortnight for the last few years. “April was unusually hot this time and the snake sightings were frequent. A snake is a cold-blooded animal and fluctuating temperatures stimulate different reactions from it," she said.
The project head of Wildlife SOS said both Levantine and Himalayan pit viper were fatally venomous and it is necessary that a person bitten by these is taken to hospital instantly for treatment. “Any delay can be dangerous," she warned, adding that a tourniquet is not to be applied in snakebites.
In Srinagar, the SKIMS, Soura, is the only premier hospital that deals with snakebites. Dr Farooq Jan, hospital medical superintendent, told News18 that snakebites are treated by the emergency medicine department as it is a priority. “We have sufficient stocks of anti-snake venom," he said. “Snakebite incidences go up in summers. On a monthly basis, we treat 10 to 15 patients or even more."
Apart from SKIMS, Soura, the Boniyar subdistrict hospital near the Line of Control and adjacent to Uri treats the bites. Dr Parvez Masoodi, block medical officer, said in the last year his hospital has successfully treated 26 patients.
“Porters who take up ration, fuel, and ammunition on mules to the heights for the Army and cattle-rearers often get bitten by vipers. Removing them to Srinagar would take hours and patients would develop both neuro and nephrological complications," he said.
“I had suggested to higher-ups that as snakebites are common here, we must have sufficient antidotes at the hospital given that Srinagar is too far from here. They agreed and the facilities have helped save lives," Dr Masoodi said, sounding happy.