Adventures in Himachal Pradesh – Part 2

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7th August

Today was a driving day, and we had a long journey ahead of us, all the way up north to the Forest Rest House Ropa in the Great Himalayan National Park. The previous night, Dr Omesh Bharti – a government doctor from Shimla, who specialises in rabies immunisation but has also been supporting Captive & Field Herpetology’s work into snakebite – had come down with his wife to get an update on how the work was progressing. We would drop off Dr Bharti and his wife in Shimla on our way north; but that meant driving for two-and-a-half hours with four people in the back of our single car, plus luggage! It was a tight squeeze, to say the least. Continue reading

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Adventures in Himachal Pradesh – Part 1

Snakebite is considered a “neglected tropical disease” by the World Health Organisation, and it kills more people in India than anywhere else in the world; 45,000 fatalities per year is the official figure, though it is almost certainly an underestimate, due to many snakebites either being recorded too vaguely by hospitals (i.e. as ‘animal bites’) or not recorded at all. Meanwhile, people who survive envenomation can suffer debilitating after-effects which impact their ability to work and lead to crippling medical costs.

In terms of what species of snake are most responsible, the focus is usually on the ‘Big Four’: the Indian or spectacled cobra (Naja naja), the common krait (Bungarus caeruleus), the Russell’s viper (Daboia russelli) and the saw-scaled viper (Echis carinatus). But the knowledge of which snakes bite people in different areas of India is far from complete – and that is a serious problem, since anti-venom, the only effective treatment for snakebite, is only likely to work for the species whose venom was used to produce it.

The organisation Captive and Field Herpetology, headed by Ben Owens of Bangor University and Vishal Santra of the Simultala Conservationists Foundation, is working to help with the situation. This year, they made an expedition to Himachal Pradesh in the northwest of India, where the number and distribution of snake species is particularly poorly known: the goals were to survey different areas and learn which snakes were present; collect morphological and genetic data for population studies; and educate the local people in avoiding snakebite, without needing to kill the snakes. In August 2018, I volunteered to assist on the last two weeks of the six-week expedition, making my first trip to India, and not sure what I was in for. Continue reading

Adding to my adder count

I had another snake sighting in Cumbria in late June.

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This morning, I drove up to Cumbria again to go for a walk around another nature reserve. It was a hazy morning, quite cool at first in the woodland, but it had certainly warmed up by the time I got out into the open to walk along the bog boardwalk.

I got a pleasant surprise when I happened to look to the side at the right moment and recognise the distinctive zigzag of an adder, sunbathing on top of the dead leaves – the second adder I’ve seen this year. I managed to get one photograph without being able to see its head; but before I had even begun to move to try and get a better view, it slithered under the leaves and out of sight, hissing as it went.

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And on the way back, there was a common lizard sunning itself on the boardwalk too.

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My first badgers!

Back in June, I saw badgers for the first time!

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I had an exciting time yesterday evening, when I was able to go out to a hide to watch for badgers – which would be the first time I had seen a badger that wasn’t roadkill.

We started watching at about 7:30pm. It proved to be a busy spot in terms of wildlife; there were several nervous rabbits, a couple of grey squirrels having the occasional disagreement, and a colourful jay. Finally, around 8:30, came the moment we had been waiting for: the black-and-white face of an adult female badger emerged from the bushes, hanging around in the open for less than a minute before going back the way she had come.

I wondered if that brief glimpse was all we were going to get, but within the next 45 minutes, a lone badger appeared a couple more times, hanging around the entrance to the sett. Then, at about 9:15, we…

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Childhood Memories of Nature

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In the May 2018 issue of BBC Wildlife Magazine, there’s a thought-provoking article by zoologist and TV presenter Jess French, in which she comments on how many children these days are not encouraged to get involved with nature, their parents being happy to let them be entertained via digital means. Though I don’t have any children of my own, it’s all too easy to see this as the case today, and it’s a real shame. As Jess points out, early experiences are very important – I know that my own exposure to nature in childhood made a lasting impression and ensured that I would always retain that interest.

In the early-to-mid 1990s, even before the Internet provided easy information access, there were plenty of books and television programmes which could expand my knowledge beyond what was on the doorstep. Probably the one that made the biggest impression on me…

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Bank Holiday Beetling

It was a sunny Bank Holiday weekend at the beginning of May, perfect for getting out and about…

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Normally, you can expect Bank Holidays in the UK to be as wet and windy as the rest of the year, if not more so. But on this particular Bank Holiday weekend, Britain is experiencing a heatwave. It’s been so hot and sunny that I found myself getting that feeling of pleasure and contentment associated with being on holiday in happy foreign climes. And such weather shouldn’t be wasted, so these past two days, I’ve been spending plenty of time outdoors!

On Saturday, I went down to Warton Hall outside Lytham St Annes, which was opening its garden to the public for a few days. Wildlife TV presenter Nigel Marven – whom I had last encountered in the Philippines – was there, giving a talk on his reptilian pets and allowing the delighted children in the audience to handle them. These included two blue-tongued skinks and a ball python; as…

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