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Last Updated: Wednesday, 24 November, 2004, 17:53 GMT
Orissa assembly faces snake fear
By Sandeep Sahu
BBC correspondent, Bhubaneshwar

Snake charmers
The snake charmers say their livelihood is under threat (Pic: Sanjib Mukherjee)
Snake charmers in the Indian state of Orissa have threatened to release snakes in the state assembly in protest at a crackdown on their activities.

Several snake charmers have been arrested in recent weeks and now face being prosecuted under wildlife protection laws.

Representatives of the snake charmers say nearly 20,000 people could lose their jobs as a result of the drive.

Wildlife activists in Orissa have campaigned hard to stop snake charming.

They say it causes cruelty to the snakes.

But Chittaranjan Das, the head of Padmakesharpur - a village of snake charmers on the outskirts of the Orissa capital, Bhubaneswar - said they had been engaged in the profession for centuries and would have no other source of livelihood if forced to stop.

He denied the allegations of wildlife officials and activists that the charmers torture snakes during captivity.

"How can we harm them when our whole livelihood depends on them?" he asked.

Bitter row

Sporting snakes on their shoulders and necks, the snake charmers said wildlife officials had been arresting them, seizing their snakes and placing them in the local Nandankanan zoo.

"If earning money out of snakes is a crime, are the zoo authorities not doing the same by exhibiting them to the public?" asked Sanatan Behera, another snake charmer who has had seven of his snakes seized recently.

It is a life versus livelihood question - the life of snakes and the livelihood of snake charmers
Biswajit Mohanty
Wildlife activist
Nandankanan zoo, however, denied that the confiscated snakes were on display for the public.

A spokesperson said the snakes had injuries and were being kept in the zoo temporarily for treatment.

They would be released into the wild once the treatment was over, he said.

LAK Singh of the State Wildlife Organisation said snake charmers needed to realise that times had changed and that they needed to start looking for an alternative source of livelihood.

The snake charmers say the government must provide them with an alternate source of income if they wanted to stop them from their present trade.

But wildlife activists do not buy the argument.

"It is a life versus livelihood question - the life of snakes and the livelihood of snake charmers," says Biswajit Mohanty, Secretary of the Orissa Wildlife Society.

"And the life of snakes has to win in any battle between the two. They can have a different source of livelihood. But a snake cannot have a second life once killed," he said.

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