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Farmer’s Friend

Rat Snake, Kabini -

He’s the common Joe of Indian reptilia, and is spotted more often than most snakes, without being as unwelcome a presence. Unless you were a country cousin of Mickey and Minnie’s, in which case, you went around on your furry, furtive way hoping not to meet this mugger up a dark alley. For, the Rat Snake of Kabini more than earns his name. He’s a rodent hunter beyond compare, and hunts them with single minded determination, following them implacably, wherever they go. Which explains why he’s so often found near human habitation: he’s merely following his meal which is, in turn, following its meal! All one needs is a King Cobra on the scene, to complete the picture. The farmer grows the crop, and the rat eats the grain. The Rat Snake eats the rat. The King Cobra eats his preferred meal, which is the Rat Snake. And, Voila! The entire food chain gets played out on a single stage. Considering how he must be feeling about Cobras, it must be extremely galling for our hero to be mistaken for one. With so many being killed in a case of mistaken identity, it’s in his interests to point out that though he’s almost as big as a Cobra, he doesn’t have a hood, and that his ‘hiss’ is worse than his ‘bite’, which is non-poisonous. In fact, he can be excused for feeling peeved with all the myths surrounding him. Case in point being the image above, which is often portrayed as an exotic mating dance, while it’s actually a Combat Dance with another male over territory. Thankfully for the Rat Snake, there is one person who understands his true value in protecting granaries from predation, and helping prevent the spread of disease: the Indian farmer, who counts him as his best friend.

Photograph: Kiran Poonacha Story: Rajesh Ramaswamy



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