Snakes and adders: wildlife in Goa

Snakes and adders: wildlife in Goa
Photo Credit: Kedar Bhat

Tread with caution when exploring the wildlife sanctuaries in Goa! Read to know more about the venomous snakes and other wildlife in Goa.

Vivek Menezes
October 06 , 2015
07 Min Read

Drive away from the famous beaches and the pounding basslines of party Goa, and another world altogether immediately opens up outside your car windows. The fancy restaurants and five-star hotels give way to tiny hamlets, and then you find yourself creaking over impossibly narrow wooden bridges that are cantilevered high over fast-flowing rivers.

Soon, you are in the embrace of thickly wooded slopes and lush meadows. The temperature drops several degrees from the coastline you left behind just a while ago. These are the foothills of the Western Ghats, the Unesco World Heritage Site that is one of the eight “hottest hotspots” of biological diversity remaining on the planet. Goa’s share of the Ghats makes up 600 sq km of the state’s land mass, and much of it has been notified for preservation. The smallest state in India has ringfenced 20 percent of its total area of roughly 3,700 sq km from all future development.

Goa went global as a tourism brand decades ago, and the state’s population doubles to choking point all through the high season from November through February. But of all these pleasure seekers from every corner of the planet, almost no one ever ventures into the interior of the state to explore the incredible bonanza presented by the Ghats, the six wildlife sanctuaries of Goa, or the Mollem National Park.

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That anomalous imbalance is likely to shift, now that Pankaj Lad and his team at Canopy Goa (tagline: Responsible Nature Tourism) have gained a stellar reputation for their friendly eco-resort Nature’s Nest. Ideally situated to explore the remarkable biodiversity exploding in every direction in that part of the state, staffed by guides brimming with enthusiasm and keen to share their expertise, this is a unique entry point for the wildlife experience in Goa.

Photographer Kedar Bhat and I had come for snakes. Goa’s singular biodiversity spans several types of habitat from beach to rainforest, including tigers and marsh crocodiles, but also multiple species of dolphins and sea turtles. An astonishing 450 species of birds have been sighted: that’s over a third of all species recorded in India. In the case of snakes, they’re everywhere in Goa, with over 30 species regularly sighted, including the world’s longest venomous snake, the fearsome King Cobra.

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Even before we went looking, Kedar and I were thoroughly charmed by our surroundings in the tranquil countryside. After a night of pounding rain on our cottage roofs, we woke to an overcast morning full of bird sounds, and a garden alive with giant, wobbling butterflies. It is not often that you see the outsized Southern Birdwing and Blue Mormon butterflies—the two largest in India—fluttering next to each other on the same bush. But on the Nature’s Nest campus, it was a regular sight.

Sitting in the balcony of my simple, pleasant cottage, I found myself entranced by the “powder puff” bush overhanging next door, which was teeming with gleaming, thimble-sized crimson-backed and purple-rumped sunbirds, hanging this way and upside down, dozens of them busily enjoying their morning meal. Later, sitting for a robust breakfast in the covered dining area, we saw half a dozen other species of birds.

But it was on walks and treks on the hillsides, and into the forests with the calmly expert guide Omkar Dharwadkar, that we got a chance to glimpse below the stunningly beautiful landscape’s surface, to the profusion of riches that lurks just below and behind the rocks and leaves and branches that we otherwise would never have given another glance.

The general rule about searching for snakes is that if you are looking for one, you’re not going to find it. After all, these are creatures that have survived pretty much the way they are now for some 100 million years. For all of that time, they’ve feasted on our kind: mammals. There is excellent neuroscientific evidence to establish that the larger brains of the primates—especially humans—evolved specifically in order to help escape snakes. Now the tables are turned, it is the reptiles that have developed countless techniques of camouflage and cunning that can render them invisible, even when they’re right under your nose.

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But Omkar is a seasoned hand. Right inside Nature’s Nest campus, he unearthed a gleaming Hump-nosed Pit Viper (Hypnale hypnale), its scales overlaid with a double row of dark spots. It wound and unwound itself, so beautiful in its languor, but we kept our distance, knowing its reputation for being aggressive and irritable. Its venom causes fatal kidney failure. Everyone breathed easier when it retreated to its resting place.

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Moving up into the reserved forest area adjacent to Nature’s Nest, Omkar led us to a plateau studded with laterite boulders glistening purple after the night’s soaking. Suddenly, like a dream: one, two, five, a full 16 wild boar rumbled across our path in a mini stampede. Then, somewhat surreally, a shocking pink tree crab sauntered across our path, a hundred kilometres away from the sea. Followed soon after by a proliferation of frogs: the skittering frog, the reddish burrowing frog, the Malabar gliding frog, the Amboli bush frog, the common Indian toad.

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Indifferently maintained by the ASI, this 12th-century structure is nonetheless a jewel hidden away by peaks and forests, which blindsides the visitor with its exquisite scale, detail and setting. Built from basalt lugged over the mountains from the Deccan, it stands alone and is barely ever visited. It is a heart-stopping experience to visit such a wealth of great beauty, in such solitude and tranquillity. That is the Ghats in Goa. You really should go.

The information

How to do it: Nature’s Nest eco-resort (+91-8407954664, www.canopygoa.com/natures-nest) offers two wildlife trails (including snake-watching) on its guest schedule, which can be tailored to suit specific interests. These lead through the resort into the Bhagwan Mahaveer Wildlife Sanctuary, in the foothills of the Western Ghats. Day trips are not encouraged.

Getting there: 60km from Panjim and Dabolim airport (1.5 hours drive, Rs 2,500 each way by taxi), Nature’s Nest abuts Goa’s third largest sanctuary, and is situated in a mixed plantation, which attracts more than 50 species of birds. The resort can arrange transfers for 1-6 people for standard rates.

What it costs: Double/twin sharing packages including all meals (delicious Goan food), two guided nature walks, varied recreational activities, entry charges to the sanctuary and associated taxes is Rs 3,000 per person per night. Extra adults must pay Rs 3,000 per head; children Rs 1,500. (Children under 10 cannot go snake-watching.)

Precautions: For snake-watching, it’s best to wear hiking boots and stiff long pants (or jeans). Take a day pack for your camera gear and binoculars along with insect repellant, rain gear (between June and September), a broad-rimmed hat, and a flashlight.


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