On one fine evening, Farhadul Islam, a 19-year-old boy, was walking home through the woodlands on the Chittagong University campus. It was around 7 pm and that evening in 2017 was unusually dark. Pitch-black, actually.
Farhadul, in the sheer darkness, stepped on a snake.
"The snake bit my left knee and immediately I shook my left leg with as much force as possible," said Farhad. As he had a torch in his hand, he lit the torch and saw a green-coloured snake slithering away into the jungle.
The incident took place some 900 feet away from his home. He hurried home and told his mother what had happened. His mother tightly tied his leg with a piece of cloth so that the venom (if any) did not spread. The family called in a faith healer who provided him with water that was blessed with doa [prayer]. He drank it.
All night long Farhadul could not sleep. He was scared to death. He thought he might die any minute. To his surprise, he was alive to see the morning.
"I realise now that it was actually a dry bite, that is, the snake did not inject venom into my body," Farhad recently said, sitting in the corridor of Chittagong University's Communication and Journalism Department.
However, the incident has changed his attitude towards snakes – be they venomous or not. He decided to protect snakes instead of killing them. Now he is one of the 15 core snake rescuers of the voluntary organisation Snake Rescue Team Bangladesh.
Over the last six months, he, alone, rescued more than 100 snakes, including the deadly king cobra and python. Altogether, the organisation has rescued more than 500 snakes from different places across the country.
His organisation is providing training to new rescuers to save the reptile from being killed at the hands of people. If the forest department receives any call from inside the Chattogram division or if the national emergency number 999 gets any call regarding snake rescue, they refer the calls to this organisation. "We work on behalf of the forest department too," said Farhad, "we release the snake into the reserved forest."
Farhadul is now working as a temporary assistant lab technician at his university's Journalism department. He is also studying Electrical and Electronic Engineering at a private university in Chattogram.
"My first catch was a python. We released the snake in the Hathazari reserved forest," said Farhad.
How Farhad fell in love … with snakes
A few days after Farhadul was bitten by a snake, he began to Google and research snakes on the internet. He thought as he was living in a Chattogram area, considered a sanctuary for snakes, he would have to live with them. He thought it was better to learn about them for safety. And the more he learned about snakes, the more he began to love them.
Now he can recognise the species of the snake that bit him. He believes that it was a green vine or green pig viper.
"The green pig viper is highly venomous while the green vine is mildly venomous. If these snakes bite people, people will not die. But people will have to undergo treatment, otherwise, there is a risk of organ failure," said Farhad.
A snake rescue team in Bangladesh
In our country, when a person comes across a snake, they try to kill the snake. But Farhad said that we must keep snakes alive. Farhad believes that snakes that bite people are living in close proximity to the human habitat because we have destroyed their habitat.
Snake Rescue Team Bangladesh rescues snakes from being killed by people when snakes are caught wandering into people's homes or property. After successful rescues, the snakes are released into reserved forests.
Farhadul Islam is one of the five founding members of Snake Rescue Team Bangladesh. Another founding member, Siddiqur Rahman Rabbi, (a mentorly figure to Farhadul) had a fascination with snakes for a long time. During his childhood, he spent time with snake charmers to learn about snakes.
When, one day in 2021, an individual named Arshad Nafiz posted on Facebook calling for people who are interested in rescuing snakes in Hathazari, Farhad responded with interest. Eventually, the three got together and Siddiqur Rahman Rabbi talked to them about building a team.
They teamed up and held the group's first meeting at Chattogram University's open field last year. Five members took part in the meeting where they discussed how to work for this reptile, how they can save the serpents and how it plays a very important role in medical science.
In the beginning, Rabbi trained them on how to rescue snakes. Now, there are around 15 experienced snake rescuers in the organisation. And junior volunteers go with senior rescuers to different spots to learn what goes behind the rescue.
If the snakes are pushed to the brink of extinction, we will face a huge environmental problem because snakes keep the balance in biodiversity. Moreover, because of the role they play in medical science, it is vital to keep snakes alive.
For instance, "if we kill snakes, we will not be able to save snake-bitten people. Majority of antibiotics do not get produced without snake venom," said Farhad, "after a snake bite, we need anti-venom and this anti-venom [too] comes from snakes."
There are many organisations for rescuing dogs, cats and other animals. As snakes are very dangerous, no one thought about saving this reptile from the cruel hands of people. He said snakes are playing the most important role in our medical science.
How they catch snakes
Farhad said that there are some scientific methods they use to catch deadly snakes. The first thing one should bear in mind while rescuing a snake is that one will have to observe the movement of the snake.
"It gets easier if you can understand the movement of a snake. You will have to see if the snake is angry or friendly. Based on that, we can rescue a snake," said Farhad.
He said that the behaviour of snakes varies among the different species. There are two major species of cobra seen in our region. One is King Cobra and another is Indian Cobra. For example, the King cobra, when it is in an attacking mood, lifts its head for a strike. If you see the hood, you will understand they are in an attacking mood. Then one will have to wait until it cools down.
"Then we try to calm the snake. Some snakes take two to three minutes to calm down while some take 20 minutes," said Farhad. "Snakes cannot keep their heads up for a long time because it is unnatural for them to do so."
He said that snakes get tired from lifting its head for a long stretch of time. When it gets tired, it cools down. Then the team uses a hook to bring a snake out into the open space and then put the snake in a bag.
For safety, they sometimes used tongs. When they used tongs to catch snakes, snakes could not move an inch. "But there was a problem. Usually, we do not use tongs because there is a chance of injuring the snake in the process," said Farhad.
The team's work is voluntary in nature and they do not take any money for it. They do it out of passion and love for nature.
Mustasir Akash, Assistant Professor at the Department of Zoology of Dhaka University said that the initiative to rescue snakes is a very effective one in stopping people from killing more and more snakes in the country.
Snakes, whether venomous or not, are killed mercilessly because of the widespread general misconception and fear. But snakes are very important to keep balance in the biodiversity.
"Snakes play a very important role in killing rats in the paddy field across the country, as a result, the farmers do not need to spend extra money to kill rats to save crops," said Muntasir Akash.
Two members of Snake Rescue Team Bangladesh have already been bitten by snakes while on rescue missions. They had to be admitted to Chattogram Medical College Hospital for treatment. One went to the hospital for treatment and another had to stay in the hospital for four days. Both of them were bitten by King Cobra.
"I think as long as I am alive, I will try my level best to save snakes. I really love them a lot," said Farhad.