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Wildbuzz: Banker who loves snails

Enabled by a hi-tech macro lens, Khurana is currently engaged with snails of Chandigarh’s Garden of Springs and Butterfly Park.

punjab Updated: Sep 02, 2018 09:44 IST
Vikram Jit Singh
Vikram Jit Singh
Hindustan Times
Wildbuzz,snails,Chandigarh’
A snail inches along.(Rajesh Khurana)

September 6 born Rajesh Khurana is obsessively curious and likes to dive deep into matters that pique his intellect. He attributes that thirst to the particular configuration of the stars he was born under! As a kid, he would be intrigued by anyone digging a ditch! But he would toy with snails and squash them too, as is the wont of humans of his age, plucking wings off flies and squealing in delight.

As Khurana matured, a great sensitivity for biodiversity blossomed in the innermost recesses of his soul. He also turned a banker and currently is special assistant at the Sector-17 branch of Punjab National Bank, handling Haryana’s pension accounts.

“If you truly love nature, you will find beauty everywhere,” is the aphorism that impels Khurana’s thoughts, deeds and wandering soul. It makes him stop his car to photograph an unusual frog.

Enabled by a hi-tech macro lens, Khurana is currently engaged with snails of Chandigarh’s Garden of Springs and Butterfly Park. These are creatures that most of us know no better than the oft-used idiom of the rat race era — loaded as it is with sneering, negative connotations — at a snail’s pace!

Khurana has filmed videos showing the “what and how” of snail eating, and the passage down the food pipe of a morsel of rotten vegetation. A video shot in the Butterfly Park has snails indulging in quaint courtship dances and spurting love injections.

“Our awareness of these little creatures must expand beyond visual sighting. My endeavour is to showcase something new and promote an empathy for the disregarded novelties of Mother Earth,” Khurana told this writer. Indeed, we learn that the snail’s pace is complex and highly evolved. Our many thanks to Khurana.

A sub-adult, female Caspian cobra in Chamba. (Vishal Santra)

The Caspian in Chamba

Himachal Pradesh is a confluence of western and eastern influences on its reptile diversity, epitomised by the rare Central Asian or Caspian cobra (Naja oxiana) discovered recently in the snowy reaches of Chamba district.

This species is found in Jammu and Kashmir as well while its geographical distribution includes Afghanistan, North-east Iran, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, South West Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

Herpetologists, Anita Malhotra, Vishal Santra and Melvin Selvan, found specimens of this species in Chamba after putting in gritty hard work and cheerfully braving field risks. “In India, this species which inhabits semi-arid, high-altitude areas with scattered scrub ranging from 1,700-2,300m, is stout in build and spreads a smaller, pattern-less hood (lacking the spectacle mark) when alarmed or defensive. It rarely hisses or strikes but is very watchful and capable of sudden, fast strikes. Juveniles and sub-adults are beautifully (double) banded. The areas where they have been encountered in HP get 4-5ft of snow,” said Santra, who is a member of the IUCN Viper Specialist Group.

Probable prey for this rare cobra in Chamba were Kashmir rock agama (lizard), two rat species, three frog species and toads, and snakes such as Western Himalayan pit viper, Himalayan Trinket, etc.

One young female cobra encountered by the team was examined for a lump in the stomach and was considered to have eaten a large agama. The venom is quite toxic, like that of the common Spectacled cobra (Naja naja), and a few undocumented bites have been inflicted by this rare species.

“A middle-aged man was bitten by a large cobra. He was administered anti-venom but, despite the dosage, he lapsed into respiratory paralysis requiring a ventilator for 48 hours,” revealed Santra.

(The writer can be contacted at vjswild1@gmail.com)

First Published: Sep 02, 2018 09:44 IST