Unwanted reptilian guests are a permanent fixture at President Pranab Mukherjee’s annual winter sojourn in Secunderabad, and the personal safety of the supreme commander of the armed forces is primarily vested in the hands of snake catchers.
The Rashtrapati Nilayam where the President spends two weeks of the winter is heavily infested with snakes and six trained catchers from the Nehru Zoological Park in Hyderabad are on duty 24/7 to capture any reptile planning on slithering close to the Nizam-era building set in 90 acres of lush greenery. The team starts screening the location for snakes a fortnight before the President’s arrival at the bungalow in the Secunderabad cantonment area.
“Prior to the President’s visit this time five snakes including two cobras were caught. We have hired six snake catchers who are stationed there to be on duty round the clock and catch any snake spotted near the building,” Gopi Ravi, curator, Nehru Zoological Park, told HT.
The men are paid Rs 400 a day each for the job though they reportedly asked for Rs 600.
Civic authorities earlier engaged a couple of langurs to clear the vicinity of monkeys, another potential irritant for the head of state though not quite as menacing as snakes. The horticulture department removes any beehives prior to the presidential visit. Security personnel are particularly cautious when the President decides to take a stroll in the gardens.
During Mukherjee’s visit here in July — he could not visit last December — about 10 snakes were caught. On one occasion, a snake was said to have managed to slither up to one of the doors of the Nilayam, where it was caught.
The Rashtrapati Nilayam is principally meant for the President’s stay and is mostly unoccupied during the rest of the year, thus allowing reptiles and other animals a comfortable abode in the area.
Mukherjee arrived in Hyderabad on December 18 and will stay till the end of the year.