Once Bitten, Twice Shot At By Poachers, This Former Journalist Saved 17,000+ Snakes

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Following the footsteps of his father and brother, Biplab Mahapatra from Odisha pursued a degree in journalism. Yet the love of animals had always been a priority for him, prompting him to devote his free time to rescuing wild animals and protecting the innocent creatures from the wrath and greed of human beings. In the past eight years, Biplab, also a mountaineer, had rescued over 17,000 snakes, 500 Cattle, 20 Cats, 15 Monkeys, 200 Birds, 2200 other reptiles and in the process, set the new Limca record for saving the highest number of at-risk species.

Talking to Efforts For Good, Biplab shares about his latest initiative – Save Snakes – aimed to reduce human-snake conflict and spread awareness to prevent deaths from snake bites. By organising awareness camps in schools, colleges and corporate offices, Biplab and his team have drastically reduced snakebite-related deaths in his hometown in Odisha.

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Biplab Mahapatra: Saving snakes means saving human lives as well

In 2010, Biplab Mahapatra had gone for a trekking trip when news reached him that a python had entered a village and the villagers have planned to kill it. He rushed to the spot, and it took him hours of explanation to deter the violently thrilled villagers. “I told them repeatedly it was non-venomous and better left in the wild,” shares Biplab.

For years, Biplab Mahapatra and his enthusiastic team of volunteers, who add up to around fifty in number now, have been rescuing snakes from all over the country, especially in Odisha. “As word spread about us, we used to get calls for snake bite related cases. From my experience, I could identify the nature of snake bite from looking at the wound texture and could assist doctors by telling them whether it was a venomous or non-venomous snake. We helped save many lives in the process,” narrates Biplab.

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2,00,000 meals served
Emergency funds sent to 350 families

Even after numerous rescue operations, sometimes even risking his life, he found that a lot of people are still succumbing to snake bites even with advanced antidotes available. While the official WHO records mention the number of such deaths to be around 50,000 annually, unreported cases in rural interiors take the number beyond 1.25 lakhs. The experience made Biplab realise that people’s perception of snakes is based mostly on myths and misconception, which is why conflict is imminent whenever a human encounters a snake. “I found that people still nurture age-old superstition, and hence they rush the patient to faith healers or temple instead of the hospital,” he informs. This paved the way for the Save Snakes campaign.

The Save Snakes campaign

Started in July 2018, the campaign has been launched in and around Odisha. School and college students, as well as local people who live in proximity to the forests, are provided life-saving lessons on different types of snakes, how to identify and distinguish between venomous and non-venomous snakes and how to save a life in case of a toxic snake bite. The team also busts myths and folklores about snakes while explaining in detail about antidotes and first aid for snake bites.

Biplab Mahapatra
Save Snakes campaign

“We have found the best response among school children who are eager to learn about the scientific truth. Targeting the younger minds is more fruitful as they can influence and convince their seniors better. We try to make these sessions very engaging and interactive with video presentations. We never do any demonstration with live animals as it is a non-bailable crime. So far, we have covered around 100 schools in 10 Odisha districts,” he shares.

Bitten by a dangerous snake once, twice shot at by poachers

The fearless Biplab Mahapatra has been a real saviour for almost every other animal species in India, barring tigers and elephants. “Not only wild beasts, but we have also rescued domestic animals like cattle, pets like cats, dogs etc. from threatening situations,” he shares. With his unit, Biplab has checked illegal animal transportation including cross-border cattle smuggling. His Anti-Poaching unit has prevented the illegal trade of numerous wildlife products. In fact, during a face-off with poachers, Biplab was shot at twice, narrowly escaping death by a stroke of luck.

His snake rescue missions are full of life risk at every step, he himself admits. “Despite my training and expertise, I have been bitten innumerable times by non-venomous snakes. Once I was bitten by a Banded Krait, one of the most highly venomous snakes in the Indian subcontinent. A quick intervention saved my life by the hair,” recounts Biplab. Nothing can ever dissuade him to not put his life at stake again and again for the sake of animals and humans in turn.

Honours and challenges

“Since 2013, I am officially working with People For Animals headed by Smt Maneka Gandhi, as I found their ideologies aligning with mine. I have also been selected as the Honorary Animal Welfare Officer of AWBI (Animal Welfare Board of India),” he shares.

Biplab Mahapatra
Biplab Mahapatra with Maneka Gandhi

Despite government recognition, funding remains a problem for the Save Snakes team. “We are hoping the government and private enterprises help us with funds so that we can launch the campaign on a more widespread basis,” appeals Biplab.

Message for everyone

“Article 51A (g) of the Indian Constitution says that it is a duty of all citizens to protect and preserve the natural environment including forests and wildlife. I request every human being to live in harmony with the animals and not treat them as hostile,” Biplab appeals to everyone.

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but how much love we put into giving.
- Mother Theresa Quote

Goonj Is Working With 1000’s Of Volunteers & Partner NGOs To Provide Covid-19 Relief In 18 States

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With the extension of the lockdown the crisis of migrant labourers and daily wagers has just grown bigger due to uncertainty and fear of future. In the migrant colonies, slums and for people in the villages hunger and desperation is building up day by day. This is high time we step up our efforts to support our people who are in dire need of food and hygiene essentials to survive the pandemic, Covid-19.

After the India-wide lockdown, a lot of jobless migrant workers are stuck in cities with hardly any resources while many started retreating back to their villages. With the loss of livelihoods, a large number of them are now struggling to support their families.

Goonj activated its pan India teams and a pan India network of partner organizations and volunteers in urban and rural India. This network, built over the last two decades, helps them learn from the ground, reach material quickly and review and adapt strategy periodically. Intensifying this network has helped Goonj reach and start work across 17produced states/UT in the last three weeks.
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2,00,000 meals served
Emergency funds sent to 350 families

Goonj’s focus: 

Majority of the Covid-19 relief work by non profits right now is in the metros and cities but Goonj is the only non profit that is also simultaneously focusing on the people in the villages and the ones stuck on highways or somewhere.

Goonj is targeting daily wagers, migrants and other vulnerable groups, who even traditionally are left out like the disabled, sex workers, LGBTQ community.

“COVID-19 is a crisis, yes…But, it’s also an opportunity for us to build the society anew. Not ‘for’ the people…but, ‘with’ the people. And in the process, we will build ourselves too.” – Anshu Gupta, Founder-Director, Goonj.

Direct Monetary and Material Transfer

Wherever Goonj got the permission to open their centres for packing and disbursement of relief material kits, they are creating a kit consisting of 20-30 kgs material including dry rations, masks, sanitary pads and other hygiene material and reaching them to people, as per needs and as per regulations with all safety precautions. This kit will help a family survive for 30 days.

Information till 10th April 2020:

  • Distributed 15,100 ration kits reaching thousands of people
  • Reached 17,700 families
  • Supporting 12 community kitchen across India with 16,600kgs of ration
  • 77,800 food packets provided to migrant laborers and daily wagers walking on the roads across the country.
  • Provided direct financial support to 32 organisations
  • Made 42,800 cloth face masks
  • 24,900 cloth sanitary napkins produced
  • Produced 1500 litres of organic sanitiser

In Goonj’s processing centers its trained team of women are making cloth face masks and cloth sanitary pads (MY-Pads), keeping all the precautions and with the permission and cooperation of the local authorities.

In this lock-down phase if you are facing any difficulty getting sanitary pads or you are running out of stock, here’s a detailed but very simple process of making Cloth Pads at home created by Goonj. “This is how we make Goonj MY Pads.” This is how our mothers and grandmothers turned their spare cloth into pads.

This disaster, unlike any other, is unprecedented in its scale and impact and that’s why we all must do our bit with Goonj to continue its relief work for millions of people in this still unfolding long-tailed disaster.

The need is huge.. We are there.. Need You too !!

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It's not how much we give
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- Mother Theresa Quote
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