Tuesday 23 July 2013

Requim to a King

If you want to see a King Cobra in the wild, the best bet would be the rain forests of Agumbe which is located 373 kilometres away. Similarly, if you want to see the King, as the King Cobra is popularly known, in captivity, the nearest place is the Bannerghatta National Park.
The forests of Agumbe also house the world’s only centre dedicated to the study and conservation of the King Cobra called the Agumbe Rainforest Research Station. However, spotting the King in even its own Kingdom is a herculean task as it is extremely shy of contact with human beings though at times it can be highly aggressive.
It is Bangalore’s misfortune that lopsided urban development, short sighted policies and scant regard for ecology has completely eradicated several species of flora and fauna which once lived harmoniously in and around the city and were part of the fabled native species.
Gone are several species of  birds and mammals and even reptiles. The only surviving patches of green such as the lush green campuses of Bangalore University, University of Agriculture Sciences (UAS), Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Indian Institute of Management (IIM) are also under severe threat from insensitive politicians, indifferent civic agencies and a largely apathetic populace. But for a handful of  wildlife enthusiasts and Nature lovers, even these patches would have disappeared long ago.
At the turn of the nineteenth century and at the beginning of the Cantonment, the British settlers reported seeing tigers in the vicinity of  Domlur, which then was a virgin forest. Since Domlur adjoined Ulsoor where the Cantonment was planned, the forests were cleared to make way for south India’s biggest garrison.
Within months of the Cantonment being planned in 1806, thousands of native Indians moved in from neighbouring states, particularly Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh to settle in the new area. Since the Pettah or old Bangalore of Kempe Gowda could not hold them and provide civic amenities, these people settled in and around Ulsoor, clearing the forests and constructing buildings.
However, they did not totally destroy the fragile ecology of the area. They continued to preserve and protect the flora and fauna of the place and paid particular interest in retaining the wetlands such as Chellaghatta and Bellandur.
Though the Domlur forest disappeared and so did the tiger, the two wetlands of Chellaghatta and the 920 acre Bellandur continued to play host to some of the most exotic wildlife species and they included the King Cobra. Yes, the clear and clean waters of these two lakes and the grasslands surrounding them provided the King Cobras an ideal habitat. The rice fields that surrounded the lakes, the vast patches of  forests was ideal for the King. 
The king continued to live around these two water bodies till the 1980s after which the decline of the water body started. With sewage being let onto the lakes, the waters soon turned poison, first killing fishes before putting off other animals. The areas around the lakes were encroached and the water channels destroyed.
When BBMP got jurisdiction over the Bellandur lake, it banned cultivation of rice and this sounded the death knell for the King. The agricultural fields around these two lakes were the breeding grounds of the Rat snake, which is a pet diet of the King which also feasted on other snakes, including Cobras, rats, rodents and smaller wildlife such as rabbits and wild hens.  
Once present near Namma Bangalore, the King slithered away to safety and today all we have are tales of how they were spotted and how majestic they looked.
No King Cobra bites have been reported. Only four deaths have been reported in South India over the past 20 years. The venom of the King Cobra is neurotoxic, but it also contains cardiotoxic compounds.
The King’s venom is less poisonous than the cobra but it pours in so much quantity that it can kill an elephant or twenty human beings at one go. The venom attacks the victim's central nervous system, induces severe pain, leading to blurred vision, vertigo, drowsiness, and paralysis. Then comes cardiovascular collapse and coma. Death is due to respiratory failure.
Once sighted commonly near these two water bodies, the Ophiophagus hannah or King Cobra today no more lives in Bangalore. This glorious species has been driven away by our unquenchable greed for land. The world's longest venomous snake, with a length up to 18.5 to 18.8 ft (5.6 metres to 5.7 metres), the King is shy of coming in contact with human beings. It is rare to sight the King even in forests and this should make us realise how lucky we were to have him so near us.
The King never harmed anyone. On the other hand, we tore up his habitat in the name of development and made him flee to safer sanctuaries. In the process, we lost a priceless part of our City’s heritage. So, to even see a King in the wild, we have to travel hundred of miles away from Bangalore. What a travesty.
Alas, it has now become a typical case of “ How near, yet so far.”

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