Irula tribals in TN granted permission to catch snakes for venom

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Tamil Nadu’s ST Irula community, which shot into the spotlight after “Jai Bhim” which projected the torture and torment faced by them, can now heave a sigh of relief after the Tamil Nadu Forest Department granted them permission to catch snakes.

The community, who are expert snake charmers and catchers, have the Irula Snake Catcher’s Industrial Cooperative Society and it has also been issued permission to sell Rs 54 lakh worth of snake venom.

Chief Wildlife Warden, Syed Muzzamil Abbas issued sale permits of the venom of 224 grams in the possession of the cooperative society.

This society was the leading supplier of snake venom in the country with an annual turnover of Rs 4 crore but with the Forest Department not granting permission to catch snakes, the sales and profits from the venom had dwindled.

In financial year 2021-22, the Irula cooperative society could manage sales of venom to the tune of only Rs 30 lakh, and the functioning of the society constituted in 1978 was almost crippled.

However, the state government order issued on Monday that the society can catch snakes and sell venom has brought a major relief to the community.

The Irulas were permitted to catch around 13,000 snakes annually but of late, the state Forest Department prevented the community from catching snakes and reduced the numbers to 5,000 which affected the business drastically. Officials with the Irula Snake Catchers Industrial Society said that the Madras High Court had granted the society permission to catch 13,000 snakes a year to extract venom but the Forest Department had been preventing this for the past few years.

The society officials said that in 2021 also, they were allowed to catch only 5,000 snakes and this led to the business of selling snake venom coming down drastically.

The society, according to the officials, at present, have the venom of spectacled cobras and Rusell’s vipers but the anti-venom-making companies require the venom of common krait and saw-scaled vipers also.

The Irula society is the only authorized supplier of venom for the production of anti-venom medicines and if the society’s functioning is crippled, it would lead to companies depending on unauthorised venom suppliers.

The pursuit by the Irula society officials with the Tamil Nadu Forest Department has led to the granting of permission for the society to catch snakes as well as to supply venom to anti-venom-making companies.

Studies have revealed that around 58,000 people die in the country due to snake bites a year and without an adequate supply of snake venom, anti-venom medicines cannot be made and this has led to the Tamil Nadu Forest Department sanctioning permission for the society to catch snakes and extract venom as also to sell the stock of venom it has.

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