Documenting endemics- snakes of the Mahdei Wildlife sanctuary.
It has been a busy monsoon. Yes, even though the rains have been less than satisfactory in the coastal areas of
The monsoons turn the Mahdei Wildlife sanctuary into a haven for herpetofauna, and being involved in an ambitious project to catalogue this diversity has led to many field trips to various parts of this important protected area of
Amongst burrowing snakes, the Beaked Worm snake (Grypotyhlops acutus), an endemic species to India featured first on our must see and document list, and rightly so…we cataloged quite a few specimens of the same, apart from documenting the elusive Pied belly Shieldtail (Melanophidium punctatum), the Elliot’s Shieldtail (Uropeltis ellioti) and the Large Scaled Shieldtail (Uropeltis macrolepis sp.) all endemic species to the country, all amongst the rich humus of the forest floor which serve as foraging grounds for these burrowing species in the monsoons as they feed exclusively on earthworms.
As we intensified our searches from day treks to night trails and more, we documented the familiar Whitaker’s Boa (Eryx whitakeri) in the cashew plantations that lined the sanctuary and also came across the fabled Montane trinket snake (Coelognathus helena monticollaris), in a small natural cave and was seen eating a bat at that!!
Our night searches coupled with trails alongside existing roads yielded some exciting results, and the Travancore Wolf Snake (Lycodon travancoricus) and the Beddome’s keelback were our main finds, and although we explored and looked for the magical Hill keelback, the search yielded little results. But the find of the fortnight was the rare and endemic Olive forest snake (Rhabdops olivaceus), a semi aquatic snake that has been earlier known from only 4-5 locations in the entire Western Ghats of India.
With heightened spirits and a fabulous forest to explore, the team was able to document the trinity of venomous species of forest snakes- the Malabar Pit Viper (Trimeresurus malabaricus) and the Green Pit Viper (Trimeresurus gramineus), apart from the rare Striped Coral Snake ( Calliophis nigrescens) whose find under a moss covered rock made our faces glow even in the pouring rain.
But apart from these species, our eyes saw the other side of these forests too; especially areas where tree cover had dwindled and monoculture plantations had taken over, roads that intersected the sanctuary lay littered with plastic and rivers clogged with silt and other unmentionables. The beginning of an end as someone put it…and well we vowed not to let it happen as these forests were truly home to some of the most magnificent of living forms and their existence and ours too depended on the South west monsoons and the capability of these forests to retain and release the waters of the same to our rivers…a long equation for those who do not understand nature’s web of life.
For us though, the documentation continues, and as I get ready with my equipment to freeze another frame, amidst adjusting my leech socks and pondering about the possible location of another species, another shower sets in….