As a young boy, Anil Kubal used to pick up snakes found near his Thane home and care for them. His mother often scolded him for this dangerous hobby.
Now, his passion for reptiles has turned Kubal, 39, into an ace snake rescuer who has saved more than 850 snakes after they strayed into Mumbai’s unfriendly urban jungle.
“Snakes generally don’t harm humans. But the first reaction that humans have towards a snake is to try and kill, even if it is not venomous,” said Kibal
The self-taught rescuer worked with the Thane Municipal Corporation (TMC) for 10 years before going solo. He holds a snake rescuer’s licence from the Thane forest department and can keep a rescued snake with him for six days before releasing it. He keeps the rescued snakes in a deep pit, which attracts a gaggle of children who call him ‘snake charmer’.
Every day, Kubal gets about five calls to rescue snakes from across Mumbai and Thane. “Before mobile phones, people would call the police, who would give them our number. Today, more people know about me because the number of snakes found in residential areas is increasing,” he said. “We are constantly digging deeper to construct buildings. Snakes require dark, cold enclosures and usually stay deep in the soil or in pipes. If we keep disrupting their homes, they will come out and enter human dwellings.”
Kubal is now passing on all he has learned to young eco-enthusiasts such as Aniket Jadhav, 25, and Nitin Walmiki, 27, both biodiversity researchers studying snakes. The Lalbaug residents have also been part-time snake and bird rescuers for nine years. “Kubal Sir has taught us the right techniques for handling snakes. His zeal for protecting animals rubs off on everyone who meets him,” said Walmiki.
Of course, the job has its perils. In 2006, a cobra bit Kubal during a release operation. He was rushed to hospital but was in a coma for three days. “The venom left my eyesight and memory very weak,” said Kubal, who has, however, not let the incident affect his passion for snakes.
Kubal charges no fees to rescue snakes, only the cost of his commute. He always checks snakes for injuries before releasing them it the nearest ideal habitat. He also teaches children in his locality how to identify and rescue non-venomous snakes.
“In his absence, we attend to rescue calls in the area,” says college student Mohak Koli, 18.