A journey to discover the people who change our world.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Vocabulary Expansion

So what is a herpetologist? I didn’t know before setting off on this trip. But I know now. Someone who studies reptiles.

But what have reptiles got to do with social change? At the Crocodile Bank of Madras, outside the town of Mamallapuram, a couple of hours south of Chennai, lots of things.

The Madras crocodile bank, set up by Romulus Whitaker and now run in conjunction with his son, Nikhil, has both a conservation and social outlook. It is actively preserving the habits of reptiles, and educating local about their habitats, and habits.

One of the projects is a snake conservation initiative. After being heavily hunted for the skins, the snake population in the region was in serious decline. The trading and export of snake skins was banned, which has been good news for the regrowth of the snake population, but bad news for the local tradespeople- for they were now out of a job.

But the Crocodile bank came up with an interesting solution. It set up a co-operative with the local Irula tribe, where a local snake catchers society extracts venom from the snakes. Once the venom is extracted it is sold on to laboratories to make antidotes, and importantly, the snakes are then released back into the wild.
Snake population maintained, jobs for the locals.

I heard about Rom from John and Louise Riber, the film makers that I stayed with in Tanzania, who recommended I track him down on my travels. I tracked him down indeed, and made plans to visit the Croc Bank- but unfortunately my train was delayed and I missed Rom by a day- he had left for an part of the province where they run another conservation programme. Nickhil was not about either.

So despite the chase, I didn’t get to meet either of them , but did get to meet some other interesting characters.

Just glad that I was on the right side of the fence!


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