I read a shiver-inducing feature today in the WSJ, it was about cobras who live in large numbers in the hot Bengali plains southwest of Calcutta. The snakes are revered by the Hindu faith, and no one except priests are allowed to touch them or harm them. One man said that nearly every day, as he lies down in his bed, cobras slither over his prone body.
Yaroslav Trofimov detailed a situation that would be very tough for the squeamish–of rice fields full of the vipers, and of 50,000 villagers who die of the bites every year. And the problem is worsened by the fact that most of the people believe that only priests can administer the remedy for the villagers who are bitten–by applying mud and by performing incantations.
It’s difficult for authorities to get samples of the venom or take one of the snakes to the city to analyze it becaus they are so revered and prized. These are monacled cobras, with a circular mark on their hoods. In recent years, some of the villagers have begun to question the wisdom of relying only on priests and have gone to the hospital to get antivenom shots.
One schoolmaster was quoted in the article as saying that about 3,000 cobras live in his tiny village, slithering between the legs of children and emerging from ponds where women do washing. “We sleep with the snakes, we eat with the snakes, we live with the snakes,” said a 14-year-old boy proudly. “We are not scared.”
I sure would be!