By Dr. Abrar Wani

image

Snake, a sinister creature veiled in a skin of supple, a legless creature with staring eyes that never blink or close is such a Gods creation that inspires an alluring feeling in a way that no other type of animal can.

My passion and dream have always been to explore a variety of wild species especially snakes, incarcerate their behavior, understanding their biological instinct and protecting their habitat. I have always been drawn towards nature since childhood and I used to visit different forests of Kashmir but I was always in the discovery of snakes, catching them, understanding their behaviour and rescuing them back to their natural habitat.

So, being a professional in the field of animal medicine the major objective of this column is to make general awareness among the public with relation to snakes, being considered evil in our society. Snakes are one of the creepiest and slithering creatures designed and decorated by the creator.

God manufactured them with unique physical attributes and habits.There are many folks in the world who are ophiophobic, even though only a third of the snake species are poisonous. Snakes even show cannibalistic behavior that sounds brutal, but it is estimated that if snakes do not gobble their young, the earth will be filled with snakes in no time.

Most poisonous species kill their prey by poison delivery, while a few by crushing their prey to death. Snakes, spooky though, are eye-catching and inimitable creations of nature and special attractions for photographers and artists. India has about 270 species of snakes of which 60 are reported as venomous.

Venomous snakes have a reputation of being the deadliest and dangerous killer animals in the wildlife, especially when it comes to their killer bites but simultaneously, a precious life saving entity to the medical research community. Over the years, scientists & medical researchers have discovered that the very compound that makes venom poisonous, are useful in the treatment of several human diseases.

Earth is home to about 3000 diverse species of snakes, among which 600 are poisonous. Every snake is gifted with its own specific venom that is composed of more than 100 bioactive compounds like peptides, enzymes, and toxins. Broadly, snake venom is of two main types namely, haemotoxins and neurotoxins.

Hemotoxins functions by trouncing the cardiovascular system, thereby impeding the blood clotting mechanism that causes teeming bleeding. Neurotoxins target the central nervous system that stops muscles from working, ultimately leading to suffocation.

Neurotoxic venom is very fatal, as the proteins can disrupt the channels that allow ions to flow across neuron membranes. If these communication channels are disrupted, the entire body system can crash, leading to immediate fatality. In a therapeutic perspective, haemotoxic derived medicine from snakes is having an attribute of treating heart attacks and blood disorders.  

The first drug used for treating hypertension (high blood pressure) was extracted from a Brazilian pit viper. In addition, drugs derived from hemotoxins include eptifibatide, enriched with a modified rattlesnake venom protein, and tirofiban, which contains a toxin protein from the African saw-scaled viper. These medicines are used in the treatment of minor heart attacks.

They work by helping to dissolve and prevent blood clots. Neurotoxic derived medicines are used to treat brain injuries, strokes, and diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. At the present time, researchers are performing study trials in relation to the potential of snake venom for cancer therapy.

Researchers have found that an amalgam in a certain type of snakes which is not yet disclosed has the potential to disrupt the function of endothelial cells that forms the inner surface of blood vessels which can lead to the cells to separate from one another, which ultimately leads to their death. Scientists think that this property of the snake’s toxic venom could be used to disrupt the flow of blood to a tumor and thus preventing its growth.

Our medical fraternity is also studying and investigating the snake venom as a potential source of painkilling compounds like one isolated from Black mamba venom which is as effective as morphine in the elimination of pain. The worldwide impact of human snake envenomation is relevant to understanding the need for further antivenom research.

Venomous snakebite is considered a significant neglected tropical disease according to the WHO. In India, WHO estimated that the annual mortality due to snakebite is approximately 50,000. One of the widely accepted concepts in Indian snake venom discussions and research is the notion of the so-called ‘‘Big 4 Snakes of Medical Importance,’’ which includes Russell’s viper, the saw scaled viper, the Indian or spectacled cobra, and the common krait. The current Indian polyvalent snake antivenoms, produced by 7 manufacturers, have remained unchanged for many decades.

The snake AV producers have argued that their products cover all the snakes of medical significance as defined by the ‘‘Big 4.’’ It has therefore been impossible, to date, to convince them to produce new AVs against the species of emerging medical importance. Some of the important current antivenom treatments for veterinary patients includes Coral snake antivenin (Coralmyn®), pit viper antivenom (Antivenom Crotalidae Polyvalent) that is used in dogs, cats, horses and camelids for pit viper envenomation, F(ab) antivenom (CroFab®), equine Plasma Product called RTLR used against the Mojave, eastern diamondback, western diamondback and prairie rattlesnake. 

From my personal experience with snakes, district Ganderbal is having a variety of snakes starting from a rat snake to the deadly vipers but unfortunately scientifically unexplored by the Kashmir wildlife department.

In Kashmir valley, most of the snakes are members of the nonvenomous Colubridae family including well over half of all snake species on earth. However, the extremely dangerous Levantine viper and the rarer Himalayan Pit viper are fatally venomous snakes found in Kashmir.

The Levantine viper commonly known as ‘Gunas’ in Kashmir is very lethal and is large blunt-nosed gray-brown snake found in dry and rocky mountainous areas between 1,000 and 2,500 meters elevation.The scale pattern consists of rosettes with light centers. It is usually inactive during the daytime, but quite alert and apt to attack swiftly.

In Kashmir folklore, it is reputed to have the ability to be able to strike by jumping at its victim. In Kashmir, cases of snake envenomations both in humans and animals have been reported but without proper identification of snake species, creating complexity for doctors to treat the emergency snakebite cases. If skeptical about the snake, treat it as the most venomous in the world.

Majority of the populace gets inspired by NGC or Discovery channel but the true picture is different.What you see on TV is an edited story of what happens in the field. What is not aired is the kind of backup they have during the shoot. Educating folks about snakes is indeed a service to society as it diminishes the conflict between humans and snakes.

Remember snakes do not understand human emotions and respect the snakes instead of loving or fearing them. “Snakes are sometimes perceived as evil but they are also perceived as medicine”

(Dr. Abrar Wani, Writer/Herper/Ph.D. Scholar; Dept. of Medicine, SKUAST K and can be contacted at dr.abrar79@gmail.com)

Archivies