The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Snakes freeze to death in Bihar

Patna, Jan. 18: Rajkiran Rai of Pawapur village in Vaishali district had never witnessed anything more “ominous” before. On the morning of January 7, as he stepped out of his house to get some straw from his backyard, he discovered three huge cobras.

Rai ran back into his house to fetch a stick. But he was surprised to find, a few minutes later, that the snakes hadn’t moved even after his panic reaction.

A religious person, Rai did not intend to use his stick. But the snakes refused to budge even after he uttered some mantras and made some sounds to scare them away.

On closer inspection, Rai found the cobras dead. “They might have come here for some warmth in the straw heap and died of cold,” he said.

Mere khyal mein, thand ke chalte saap bhi marne lage hain (I think snakes have also begun dying due to the cold),” the village mukhiya, Ramsaran, told forest officers.

A cold wave sweeping through Bihar since the first week of January has already claimed many lives, mostly children and the elderly.

Pawapur is not the only village to report snake deaths since January 8. Other villages that reported snake deaths in Vaishali are Bira, Dharanpur, Sarai, Jatkuli, Dhobghati.

“There have been at least 300 snake deaths (in the last one week) in around four blocks of Vaishali,” said a sub-divisional officer of the district.

Villagers were awe-struck to find 14 dead snakes in a forest patch in Vikram, Patna. “I suspect the snake deaths in the state are coming from everywhere. Vaishali may be a spot where it is more visible,” said state environment, forest and water resources minister Jagdanand Singh. “This is obviously because of rapid denudation of forests and an abnormal cold wave sweeping the state, which is taking a heavy toll of human lives too.”

Snakes are worshipped in the villages and their deaths are seen as an ominous portent. “In some of the villages, the vaid (medicine men) are predicting a natural calamity since they believe that the world is borne by Basuki Nag. Death of snakes bear ill omen for us all,” said Rajiv Tiwari, a block level welfare officer in Dhobghati village.

Even wildlife experts aren’t comfortable with the news. “We feel the death of snakes at this time of the year is not normal. The reptiles go into hibernation in winter and don’t come out of their pits. If they do, they will die in no time because their new skin is yet to crustify,” said Akhilesh Prasad of the Sanjay Gandhi Zoological Gardens in Patna.

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