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Scales, Serpents, and Serendipity.

What: The Science of Snakes workshop

Where: Liana Forest Farms

Who: Gerry Martin

How: Thought you wouldn’t ask.

Here. We. Go.

Having known Gerry for over…damn, I’d rather not write that number down for the benefit of both of us. Our grey matter (his[s] mostly) might give that away. But, still.

So yeah, having known him all these years, I never imagined I will end up attending a workshop by him as this is a very recent interest of mine.

From the moment we slithered, uh… I mean arrived, at Liana Forest Farms, it was clear that this workshop was going to be a unique experience. The farm itself was like a hidden oasis in the middle of a jungle – lush greenery, vibrant bird songs, and a lake overlooking the property. Perfectly enchanting!

Gerry captivated us with his extensive knowledge and witty one liners. I offered him a slot for our Open Mic that we conduct regularly back home. The sessions were so in-depth that we actually started believing we could converse with snakes by the end of Day 2. I may or may not have attempted a snake conversation in the shower but that’s a story for another time. (And no, it’s name was not Squeaky).

The course schedule sent earlier mentioned a session with none other than the legendary Romulus Whitaker, snake conservationist extraordinaire! Most of us thought it would be over an online meeting. Little did we know that Rom now lives at this farm. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this legend, here’s a little intro. (From Wiki)

Romulus Earl Whitaker is an American-born Indian herpetologist, wildlife conservationist, and founder of the Madras Snake Park, the Andaman and Nicobar Environment Trust (ANET), and the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust. In 2008, Whitaker was selected as an associate laureate in the 2008 Rolex Awards for Enterprise for his efforts to create a network of rainforest research stations throughout India. In 2005, he was a winner of a Whitley Award for outstanding leadership in nature conservation. He used this award to found the Agumbe Rainforest Research Station in Karnataka, for the study of king cobras and their habitat.

For his work in wildlife conservation, he received the Padma Shri award in 2018.

I did visit ARRS in 2009 with zero knowledge about snakes in general but hadn’t been able to meet him then.

Meeting the man himself was like seeing a King Cobra doing the salsa – unforgettable and slightly dangerous. It was a dream come true for all of us snake enthusiasts. We were absolutely amazed when he explained his work with the Irula tribes in extracting snake venom after the tribals were left jobless after the ban of snake trading.

We were 12 of us from different parts (5 in that from different parts of Malhar) of the country learning from the best. The sessions over 5 days covered a great deal about living with snakes. We shared stories, laughed at each other’s snake-themed jokes, and even befriended a few resident reptiles who seemed to appreciate our newfound appreciation for their scaly companions.

I am not getting into the details of every session, but if you are keen to know (everyone should) about a world most of us grew up afraid of, this is it. The sessions are curated well with ample opportunity for us to have conversations even around meals. Talking about meals, Pushpa’s everyday culinary treats left most of us feeling like an over-fed python. Damn, this line sounds so much better in Malayalam.

I can’t thank Gerry, Chandini, Lisa and Sam enough for all the learning, laughter and treating us to a world that is ever so fascinating.

As the workshop drew to a close, we departed with more snake trivia than we could ever hope to remember. Whether it was understanding the difference between venomous and non-venomous debate (there is nothing called ‘mildly venomous’), building a vivarium for different species of snakes, herping to find some night life (relax, not that type you are thinking) or simply debunking snake myths, we were armed with knowledge that we can take back to our communities to share the same.

Special mention to Kartik Sunagar and Anita Malhotra for taking their time to be a part of our sessions. Once again, amazed by the work they do in their respective fields.

Last but not the least, for the dozen friends I made (4 were already friends, but yeah), thank you for all the laughter (except one, who needs to cut her laughter a bit). I am sure our paths will cross-again. We’ll make sure we will triangulate and meet shortly.

Gerry, for goodness snake, sign-up for our Open Mic.


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