What exactly does a victim of a spectacled cobra bite go through? In these columns last week, I mentioned that Punjab Wildlife Advisory Board member, Nikhil Sanger, had been bitten by a cobra on September 26 near Nawanshahr while rescuing the creature from a flooded lawn. Sanger was discharged from Raja Hospital on September 29. Luck had favoured Sanger because the cobra had only one fang, the other presumably broken in an earlier prey chase. Yet, that one fang pumped enough venom to push the rugged Sanger to a point where he felt he was ‘dead’ and that his soul was on the verge of taking flight.
Nikhil recovers in hospital.
PHOTO: SONIKA MANN SANGER
But since I had read earlier about envenomation symptoms, I was perhaps better prepared to face their onset,’’ says Sanger.
Cobra in flooded lawn just before it bit Nikhil.
His eyelids kept drooping and Dr HD Singh repeatedly told him to keep his eyes open. A bout of frothy vomit ensued, and Sanger was made to also urinate and pass his stool. Then, he felt as if his neck was being strangulated and his breathing choked. The cobra’s neuro-toxic venom attacks the nervous system and shuts down the lungs. Doctors shifted him to the ICU and put him on ventilator support and anti-venom doses (seven vials in all). But Sanger, in his semi-conscious state tried to pull out the ventilator tube, which was irritating his throat. Written permission was then secured from Sonika to tie his limbs.
“I lapsed into unconsciousness but two hours later, I kind of woke up. I felt complete darkness engulfing me. I could not feel my body or any physical sense, just as we would imagine what a cold body in the mortuary would be like. I felt I had died and my soul was in transit.But I wanted to make a last-ditch effort and test whether I had actually died. I decided to wiggle my finger. It took me about 15 minutes of intense mental effort but my finger moved and I heard the nurse say ‘the patient has moved his finger’. I realised I was still alive! I became conscious again. Till 4am, the doctors had declared me to be in a critical condition. I only became fully conscious late in the morning of September 27 and thereafter made steady progress,” says Sanger. Through these hours of ordeal and triumph, Sonika had stood beside Sanger like a pillar of strength, like a brooding cobra guarding over Shiva, her voice steady and her actions reflecting steely nerves.
(PS: And all lived happily ever after. The cobra also surfaced on September 27 morning from underneath the verandah, sat in the lawn for sometime before leaving the house and its terrified inhabitants.)
CLOCKING THE CUCKOO
This is another wildlife story with a happy ending. It involves zoologist Dr Surya Prakash, who has rescued dozens of wild creatures and some humans in distress. The subject of his empathy this time was the enigmatic monsoon bird, a pied cuckoo. As luck would have it, a juvenile cuckoo banged into Dr Prakash’s car at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi, recently. The bird went into shock. “I picked it and returned home.I gave it water through a dropper, examined it for external injury and kept it under observation in a cage in a ventilated place. As usual, I requested my wife and daughter to keep a watch on it. At 6 pm, when I returned home, the bird was out of shock and stress. I fed it meshed and water-soaked beans and took its indoor flight trial which it passed with flying colors. By evening, it had started trusting me and I brought the bird into the open. The cuckoo observed the surroundings for a few minutes and went to its own world," recounts an elated Dr Prakash.
Photo credits : DR. SURYA PRAKASH
The cuckoo uses monsoon winds originating from Africa to migrate to Central and Northern India. It then lays eggs in the nests of birds such as turdoides babblers. But since cuckoos do not have their biological parents to guide them back to Africa, I asked Suhel Quader, coordinator for Migrant Watch, as to how juvenile cuckoos find their way home.
Quader says not much is known about pied cuckoo migration. “In many cuckoo species, juveniles migrate after their parents (and other adults) have left, and so they accomplish their migration largely by instinct. For example, in the Eurasian Cuckoo breeding in Europe, adults lay their eggs in host nests and then return to winter in Africa, leaving their young to make the journey by themselves. Presumably, this could be happening with pied cuckoos, too. The suspicion is that they make the return journey to Africa largely overland in an arc crossing the Arabian Peninsula. In North India, one sees cuckoos till October/November. However, stray sightings here during winter indicate that some individuals hatched late may stay back.”