Showing posts with label India. Show all posts
Showing posts with label India. Show all posts

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Antivenom Kits for Use by the Public

The following story appear in the Times of India today, let’s hope the reference to venom really refers to anti-venom.

PUNE: The Pimpri-based Haffkine Bio-pharmaceutical Ltd, a state government undertaking, has developed an easy-to-use venom kit for reducing deaths caused due to snake bites, especially in rural areas.

The kit is useful for treating bites of four most poisonous snakes - the common cobra, Russel's viper, Common Krait (Manyar) and saw scaled viper (Ghonas/Furse).

Prakash Sabde, managing director of Haffkine Bio-pharmaceutical Ltd, said, "It is difficult to get treatment for snakebite in villages. This kit is easy to use and can be administered by a nurse or an attendant at government rural hospitals. The venom kit gives sufficient time for the victim to be rushed to a bigger hospital for treatment, if necessary. This increases chances of a patient's survival."

Manager and public relations officer Navnath Garje said, "The kit contains vials of venom that need to be injected after the bite. It also includes posters and a booklet containing instructions on how to use the kit and treat the patient besides giving answers to most common misconceptions about snakebites and its cure. The venom in the kit has a shelf life of four and a half years."

Garje said the company will hold discussions with the Pune branch of the Indian Medical Association for approaching doctors and creating awareness about the kit. They would also set up stalls in Konkan where snakebite cases are high.

Garje said that people in villages either go to quacks or use crude methods for treatment which results in loss of valuable time and eventually death. "It is necessary they get proper treatment on time."

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Venom Cartels

The Pioneer, New Dehli is carrying to following story.

Recovery of 500 ml cobra venom, estimated at Rs 2 crore, and two highly poisonous snakes from the national Capital hints at the ever-rising demand for drug pushers in the national Capital Region.

This is the fourth seizure of snake poison since November 2011 from Delhi. The latest recovery was made from a UP Roadways bus which was heading towards Meerut on Tuesday night.

Police have recovered two live snakes, a python’s child and a sand boa, along with a soft drink bottle containing 500 ml venom on Tuesday night. Police have also arrested two persons suspected to be carrying these to Meerut in Uttar Pradesh. The seizure came after an NGO tipped off Delhi Police, according to police.

BK Singh, Additional Deputy Commissioner of Police, (North-east), said, “At GT Road near Jhilmil Metro Station, the police stopped a bus (UP 42A T0673) and recovered a travel bag in the bus. It carried a box made of thermocol inside which two live snakes, a sandboa and a python’s child were found.

A soft drink bottle containing 500 ml cobra venom was also found inside the bag. We have arrested two persons, Moin and Mehboob, who were found carrying the bag.

A case under the relevant sections of Wildlife Protection Act has been registered against them in GTB Enclave Police Station, he said.

It is believed that the venom and snakes were brought to Delhi by a flight. The seized travel bag has a Go-Indigo airline’s tag attached to it. Besides on the thermocol box, a strip reading “X-ray and physically checked” was stuck. Addl DCP Singh said that they are probing to find out the exact details about the seized consignment.

Sourav Gupta, a senior employee of NGO People For Animals, said, “According to our information, the snakes and venom were being taken to Meerut and Nepal. It is possible that the venom was brought to Delhi in larger quantities and only 500 ml was being sent outside the capital.”

Police believe that well-organised cartels dealing in poison are operating in Delhi and the National Capital Region (NCR) with the increase in the demand of snake poison by drug addicts. The highly addictive nature of the snake venom makes it a much sought-after article by the drug addicts. The snake venom, mostly extracted from Cobra and Krait, is sold as an esoteric narcotic that fetches hefty sums to smugglers.

This is the fourth recovery since November. Earlier, two back-to-back seizures of snake poison were made in November and December last year by the city police followed by third seizure a day before Valentine Day. Wildlife sources pointed out that around 100 snakes would have to be killed to extract 500 ml of venom.

According to animal welfare activists, the cobra venom is dried and processed to convert into powder.

“The cobra venom is first dried and then grinded into powder. It is highly addictive in nature. It is consumed after dissolving it in liquor. About 10 grams of powdered cobra venom is dissolved in 100 litres of alcohol. However, there are also instances of ‘higher-level’ addicts using venom in raw form,” Gupta said.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Snake Venom Forensics

In the science fiction classic Bladder Runner, Harrison Ford's character  Rick Deckard tracks down a replicants (synthetic humans) using a scale from an artificial snake. The planet has been turned into a sewer, and most of its life forms other than humans have been obilterated. While we have not quite reached the level of environment degradation depicted in the film, we are consuming snakes at an alarming rate. For a variety of purposes including meat, skins, and venom.

The illegal trade in snake parts in many places in the world has increased in spite laws and legistation to protect snakes. Last August there was a story posted on this blog regarding the illegal trade in snake venom.

A raid on a hotel room in Kerala recovered  the venom and the the local magistrate sent venom samples to the Center for Cellular and Molecular Biology in Hyderabad. The smugglers were charged with illegal hunting and trafficking of a protected animal, both punishable by a prison sentence and fine of 25,000 rupees (about $500). The case is still pending.

 Now Indian scientists (Sing et al. 2012) at the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology in Hyderabad have developed a technique of identifying the species of snakes that produced a venom sample.  Their analysis used the primers for cytochrome b frpom the mitochondrial DNA genome and revealed that the venom was extracted from  Indian cobras (Naja naja). On the basis of this report, the  authorites were able to file charges against the accused for illegal hunting of the protected cobra and smuggling of snake venom. This approach potential for rapid identification of snake venom recovered by law enforcement. This paper is also the first report of DNA isolation from dried snake venom for species identification.

Extraction of DNA from snake venom  is difficult because when a snake voluntarily injects or ejects its venom, it usually does not contains snake cells. However, when humans exteact the venom by force tissues of the venom gland are most likely damaged and DNA becomes available from the cells mixed with the venom.

You know its only a matter of time before this becomes a plot on CSI, or one of its spin-offs.

Singh, C. S., Gaur, A., Sreenivas, A. and Singh, L. (2012), Species Identification from Dried Snake Venom. Journal of Forensic Sciences. doi: 10.1111/j.1556-4029.2011.02049.x

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Drug Cartels & Snake Venom

From the Khaleej Times On-Line, a story by Nithin Belle that stretches the imagination, but not in a positive direction.

Drug syndicates’ hand feared as demand for snake venom rises

22 October 2011 MUMBAI - The seizure of snake venom in Mumbai and Thane in recent days has led the police to suspect that a new syndicate dealing in the poison has emerged, as perhaps demand from drug addicts has grown.

Heroin addicts, who have virtually no space left on their limbs for injecting the drugs, are known to take snake bites on their tongues. Many addicts who have been abusing narcotic substances for years are also known to try snake venom to get a new high.

On Wednesday, Mumbai police arrested one Naeem Bakshi, 38, a Delhi resident, who was trying to sell a litre of snake venom, estimated to be worth Rs40 million, near Sion in central Mumbai. He has been remanded to police custody.

Police sources suspect that consumption of snake venom is on the rise, especially among drug addicts seeking a new high. This could have attracted drug syndicates into what could be a lucrative trade.

Last month, the Thane police arrested three persons who had in their possession 600 gramme of snake venom. Just a few days earlier they had arrested two others for illegally possessing snake venom. According to R.P. Shivdas, assistant commissioner of police, the venom was probably extracted from a king cobra. A few days ago, the anti-narcotics cell of Thane police arrested one Kiran Sagre, 34, from the Karad ST bus stand, with snake venom worth almost Rs25 million.

Police sources here say that snake venom is being sold as an esoteric narcotic and drug-pushers are extracting large sums of up to Rs4,000 for a prick of the poison. It can be highly dangerous, and only a few drug addicts are known to go for it. About two years ago, the Maharashtra government angered environmentalists by deciding to legalise the snake venom trade. The government allowed snake rescuers to engage in venom extraction activities in Nashik.

The objective was to enable snake rescuers, who catch snakes that stray into residential areas, to earn a livelihood. The government had set a ceiling of extracting venom from 8,000 snakes every year.

But environmentalists warned that this would encourage smuggling of snake venom and even result in an illegal trade in snake parts. They feared that the move would also result in large-scale killings of the reptiles.

Snake venom is used by a few pharmaceutical companies in India to produce life-saving drugs and antidotes to snake bites. The venom is usually extracted from the ‘big four’ Indian snakes — the cobra, common krait, Russel’s viper and saw-scaled viper.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Snake Venom Smugglers

Stories in the Malaysia National News Agency, Bernama.Com and the Deccan Chronicle are reporting snake venom smugglers are apparently extracting venom glands from snakes and leaving the snakes to die. Wildlife officials suggest the activity is done in remote areas by well organized syndicates. Illegal venom smuggling surfaced in Kerala and Orissa this week. The venom is used not only in the production of antivenom, but also as an aphrodisiac and is sold to snake charmers. Kedar Swain, a Balasore Forest Division officer, has a team who arrested five smugglers and seized 48 venomous snakes last week. The suspects were trying to sell the venom in Kasargod in the northern tip of Kerala. The suspectes were said to have had vipers, cobras, and a liter of venom.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Regulating Snake Charmers & Their Snakes

The following story by  Stephanie Nolen of The Globe and Mail was published on May27, 2011. There is at one interesting comment associated with this story.And, it makes the point that cobras are often urban snakes, living in close proximity to humans and feeding on rats and other snakes. See the Urban Snakes post from a few days ago.

Pali Nath believes his cobras are 1,000 years old. This may be a slight overstatement, but it speaks to his sense that his trade – snake charmer – is an ancient, integral part of Indian culture. He plies it at weddings and other auspicious occasions, and sometimes on the pavement at busy crossroads in Delhi.

When he squats on his haunches and begins to plays his flute, then lifts the lid off a wicker basket of coiled snakes, the music and the swaying of the serpents has an other-worldly quality. He draws a crowd that, for a few minutes, falls still in this cacophonous city.

This is also, however, a modernizing city, and ancient though the practice of snake charming may be, it must keep up with the times.

Thus the municipal government of Delhi recently summoned Mr. Nath and a number of his confederates to have their snakes microchipped.

Yes. Microchipped.

Back in 2003, Delhi’s wildlife department ordered all city residents with wild animals to register their beasts. Dancing bears, auspicious-occasion elephants, festive camels, performing monkeys, parrots who tell fortunes and rats that predict the future – this concrete jungle is rich in fauna.

The city hoped that by declaring an amnesty to register wild animals in the city, it would help to stop the wildlife trade.

Mr. Nath read about the amnesty in the newspaper, and signed up. It took the city eight years to work its way around to the snake charmers, but a few weeks ago, he got the call to bring in his snakes.

In a bare city office, he met Nitin Sawant, a herpetologist who is the director of the Goa office of the World Wildlife Fund India. The city brought Mr. Sawant north because he is one of the few people in the country with an expertise in PIT-tagging (that’s Passive Integrated Transponder, for the uninitiated) snakes, a skill he picked up PIT-tagging pit vipers for his doctoral research in zoology.

Mr. Sawant took each snake in turn, popped its head and neck into a clear plastic tube to keep it still, and used a needle to insert the tag – smaller than a grain of rice – into the snake’s skin, below the top layer that is shed. Each chip carries a unique identity number.

Then Mr. Nath was given a stamped, laminated certificate that records the species, length, weight and unusual identifying characteristics of his six snakes. And that changed his life.

“Before I was being harassed all the time by inspectors, but now when they stop me I show them this certificate,” he said. Wildlife officers can use a handheld scanner to read the chip and confirm the snakes he is carrying are the ones he registered.

Snake charming, like any activity with a wild animal, was outlawed in the mid-1990s. Inspectors patrol for violators, seeking in theory to confiscate animals or, more typically, to demand bribes from the snake charmers to leave them alone.

Now, Mr. Nath said, his fellow charmers are left living in fear of inspectors, keeping to the shadows, while he can operate freely. He was reluctant to be too specific about what he earns, but he seemed prosperous enough, wearing crisp, bright-orange robes stretched over a firm belly.

Only 10 snake charmers, with a total of 43 snakes, came forward for microchipping, according to a wildlife official who declined to be quoted by name; he estimated there are at least 50 more snake charmers at work in Delhi. The initiative has been “very cheap,” he said, at a cost of about 55,000 rupees, or $1,200.

Mr. Nath insisted none of his snakes came through illegal wildlife trading. Rather, he said, they were spotted in buildings around the city and he was called to remove them. “I have caught snakes in the Kuwaiti embassy, in the home of the minister of external affairs, in the railway museum,” he said.

Once he catches them, he defangs the snakes, using a method he learned from his father that he declined to detail. Because they are defanged, his snakes cannot hunt, and he feeds them deboned chicken and fish, plus yoghurt in summer. He carries them around the city in a basket tied shut with string. And he loves them dearly. “In the winter, they sleep with me under the quilt, not my kids,” he said in Hindi.

However, Mr. Sawant, a man with a warm-blooded passion for reptiles, was appalled at the state of the snakes he tagged.

“The way they are catching and treating the snakes is torture, and they were sluggish, they are not in good health,” he said. “I told all of the [snake charmers] that they should leave this profession: ‘If somebody puts your child in a bucket and makes them dance, you will not be happy.’ They said, ‘But, sir, we don’t have any livelihood.’ ”

Mr. Nath said his snakes will live at least several hundred more years (unless bitten by a mongoose) and thus he will never need more. If he did, he said, he would keep a few eggs when his current snakes mate, but never trap a wild snake.

The herpetologist was skeptical. “Obviously these snakes are in bad health and they will die and they will go for new snakes.”

The microchipping may help, he said, but it relies on a fairly high level of efficiency by wildlife inspectors. The king cobra and python species favoured by snake charmers are not yet endangered but are threatened, Mr. Sawant said.

Mr. Nath counters that he has a religious and near-mystical relationship with his snakes, that he and they are bonded through his music. (This idea is somewhat undermined by the fact that he has to jab and poke the snakes, which respond by striking furiously at his hands, in order to get them to “dance.”)

“It’s a talent, a work of art, and it’s legalized with this certificate,” he said.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

"The Million Death Study" Published - Snakebite in India

Confusion over the number of people who die in India annully from snakebites is an on-going problem. In 1880, Joseph Fayrer suggested 19,060 Indians died from snake envenomation. His comment instituted a campaign of snake extermination , with 467,744 snakes killed for bounty. Fayrer reported a minimal decrease in deaths - 18,610 people died. However, by 1889, the snake bite deaths increased to 22,480 at a time when the population was 250 million. Swaroop and Grab (1954) assembled the World Health Organization's (WHO) first global snake bite estimates but they lacked reliable data from India, reporting 20,000 deaths. This number may have been based upon Fayrer's 1889 number. Sawai and Homma (1972) attempted to estimate the number by visiting Indian hospitals accompanied by extrapolation and estimated 10,000 deaths per year suggesting 90 per cent of the victims did not seek hospital treatment. Chippaux (1998) estimated snake envenomation killed between 9,900 and 21,600 per year when the population was nearing one billion. A 2005 WHO study estimated 50,000 snakebite deaths in India, but a 2008 follow-up,estimated 11,000 deaths; and a second 2008 report done by the Indian government estimated only 1,400 mortalities, possibly because 6 of the xx Indian states failed to respnd to the study. Snakebite in India does not have to be reported to the Ministry of Health, and traditional folk treatments are still relied upon in many regions. On April 12, 2011 a new study, with the nickname "The Million Death Study" was published in PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases (Mohapatra et al. 2011 -see below)

The study examined 123,000 deaths from 6,671 randomly selected areas between 2001and 2003. Full-time, non-medical field workers interviewed living respondents about all deaths. The underlying causes were independently coded by two of 130 trained physicians. The authors' summary follows:

Earlier hospital based reports estimate about 1,300 to 50,000 annual deaths from snakebites per year in India. Here, we present the first ever direct estimates from a national mortality survey of 1.1 million homes in 2001–03. Full-time, non-medical field workers interviewed living respondents about all deaths. The underlying causes were independently coded by two of 130 trained physicians. The study found 562 deaths (0.47% of total deaths) were assigned to snakebites, mostly in rural areas, and more commonly among males than females and peaking at ages 15–29. Snakebites also occurred more often during the rainy monsoon season. This proportion represents about 45,900 annual snakebite deaths nationally (99% CI 40,900 to 50,900) or an annual age-standardised rate of 4.1/100,000 (99% CI 3.6–4.5), with higher rates in rural areas (5.4) and with the highest rate in the state of Andhra Pradesh (6.2). Annual snakebite deaths were greatest in the states of Uttar Pradesh (8,700), Andhra Pradesh (5,200), and Bihar (4,500). Thus, snakebite remains an underestimated cause of accidental death in modern India, causing about one death for every two HIV-related deaths. Because a large proportion of global totals of snakebites arise from India, global snakebite totals might also be underestimated. Effective interventions involving education and antivenom provision would reduce snakebite deaths in India.
It seems unlikely that this study will end the on-going controversy over the number of snakebites and deaths from snake venom in India. However, it is an intriguing piece of work and if you are interested in the problem it is worth the time to ready the author's ideas. 

Monday, January 3, 2011

Turtle Tales of Chennai

Volunteers of the Sea Turtle Protection Force tending to
injured turtles. Two Olive Ridley turtles with damaged
lippers were rescued by volunteers of the Sea Turtle
Protection Force at Kovalam and Panaiyur beaches.
In February of 2010. Supraja Dharini, Founder, TREE
Foundation, said while one turtle had lost its right fore
flipper and was stranded on the beach at Kovalam, the
other was stranded on the Panaiyur beach with both its
fore flippers cut. The left hind flipper was cut ninety per
cent. The turtle at the Kovalam beach could have
damaged its right front flipper nearly a month ago as it is
 getting healed, she said. The Sea Turtle Protection Force
 was formed by the Foundation. The turtle found in
Panaiyur had serious injuries, with the bone was visible.
The left hind flipper was hanging loose. The Hindu. 12
February, 2010.
by Shyam Balasubramanian
Express News Service
First Published : 13 Dec 2010 04:28:20 AM IST

CHENNAI: It is that time of the year when Olive Ridley turtles converge to the city’s coast for nesting. Chennai has an impressive record in turtle conservation. It all started in 1972, when renowned herpetologist and conservationist Romulus Whitaker took up the task of saving turtles. “We ran a small hatchery near the Cholamandal village. We did sea turtle conservation work for 10 years,” says Whitaker, Rom to all who know him. They had to stop in 1982 when the Forest Department took over conservation work of the protected sea turtle.

Rom says he found an interesting relationship between the turtles and fishermen during his conservation efforts. “Fishermen worshipped the turtle in a way. If a turtle crawled into their hut, they would feel honoured. In fact, they used to put wet sand on top of its shell and stick incense sticks on it. It was extremely funny to see these turtle crawling around with incense sticks on their back,” says Rom.

Students as Ridley saviours

Founded in 1987, the Students’ Sea Turtle Conservation Network (SSTCN) is Chennai’s oldest extant organisation involved in sea turtle conservation. Powered strictly by a force of student volunteers, SSTCN  continues to keep its operations small and entirely subject to the dedication of its volunteers.

The group has even refused corporate funding and aims at keeping consumption to a minimum.

“We prefer to reuse stuff. We avoid buying the materials. Sometime we rely on relatives in the countryside to send us used gunny bags and other stuff that we utilise for constructing hatcheries”, says Akila.

What has surprised long-time SSTCN members most is continuous support they have received. “At first I was worried over whether we would run out of volunteers to do the conservation work. Over the years, I have learnt that my worries were completely baseless. We get a steady stream of students volunteering to work and that is heartening”, says V Arun, who has been active with SSTCN for over 13 years.

In fact, the dedication and the camaraderie run deep for those who have worked under the SSTCN banner. Many early members still keep in touch and contribute in whatever way they can, despite the fact that they live across the planet now.

Fishing villages involved

Starting in 2002, TREE Foundation spent years earning the trust of the fishing villages as well as the government. Now, it has a team of fishermen called the Kadal Aamai Pathukavalar (KAP) or the Sea Turtle Protection Force, manning its hatcheries and scouting the beaches.

Every fishing village from Neelangarai to Marakkanam has seen frantic activity by TREE Foundation personnel during the Olive Ridley nesting season. They now inform the organisation about developments, not only about turtles, but also of all other marine life.

Over time, it has been accorded permission by the Forest Department to conduct rescue, rehabilitation and recovery operations. It is authorised to conduct necropsies in partnership with the Veterinary College.

The organisation, led by Dr Supraja Dharini, sees active participation of student volunteers. Some of them are from the Veterinary College or Zoology students. TREE Foundation keeps record of all its work.

Fishermen working with the organisation have turned trainers, talking to fishing communities and Wildlife officials about sea turtle conservation and its methods.

Better networking

An increasing number of fishing hamlets on the coast surrounding Chennai are being brought into the sea turtle conservation net. And orienting and training the fishermen of these villages in conservation activities has become an easier task. Especially after Pugalarasan and Ezhumalai started addressing the sessions.

The two fishermen have been volunteering with the TREE Foundation for eight years now and have learnt enough to talk conservation into their community in other villages. Better still, they have recently started addressing gatherings in English when necessary.

“It is easier for us to connect with our community. We know the lives of fishermen and the language they use. We can make them see the point behind conserving sea turtles”, says Pugalarasan, a fishermen from Periya Neelangarai.

They found that language was a barrier when they went to other States or for sea turtle conservation conferences. So they took training from TREE Foundation volunteers for making presentations in English.

“We are interacting with more and more conservationists who do not understand Tamil. Making our presentations in English really helps. We recently even addressed a gathering of officials of the Forest Department in English. It was a proud moment”, says Ezhumalai, a fisherman from Injambakkam.

The two say they want to get more familiar with the language to interact with foreign experts.

“When we address a session in Tamil, we are able to bring in anecdotal evidence to make out point effectively. But we are still not that comfortable with English. Often, we end up giving straight presentations and we stick to the script. I guess with a little more practice, we will become much better”, says Pugalarasan.

Currently, Pugalarasan and Ezhumalai are on a tour to the coastal areas of Andhra Pradesh. They will also visit the Olive Ridley mass nesting sites in Orissa, before returning.

Booming support

Conservation groups working along the Chennai coast to protect the Olive Ridley turtles are very happy with the support they received from State Forest Department. Officials have ensured that they have been given the requisite permissions. The department’s local functionaries show genuine interest in turtle conservation work, the conservationists say. But Chief Wildlife Warden and Principal Chief Conservator of Forests R Sundararaju is more pragmatic about the role of his department.

“It is the duty of the government to conserve and protect animals, through the Forest Department. That goal is important. Also, it becomes easier to achieve our goals when we work with a conservancy group that do good work”, says Sundararaju.

The Forest Department makes it a point to impart continued education to its personnel. It has organized workshops to educate its rangers and officials on a host of relevant subjects relating to conservation. Forest Department officials recently attended a workshop on turtle conservation as well.

Sundararaju feels training of this nature is yielding results. He points out that it is not possible for any one person to know everything about all animals. “Learning needs to happen every day. I just want to make sure training is imparted to all officials of the department”, he says.