Snakes and Apps: The digital age’s answer to snake encounters in India

Isabel Lamb 'invesssstigates' India's new snake identification technology

Isabel Lamb
7th March 2021
Image Credit: Abhishek Rana on Unsplash
The Indian state of Kerala is home to over 100 species of snake, both dangerous and harmless. Venomous snakes that can be found in Kerala include Russell’s viper, the saw-scaled viper, the spectacled cobra, and the Indian krait. The Saw scaled viper alone is thought to be responsible for around 5,000 human deaths a year in India; therefore, being able to identify and avoid potentially deadly snakes is of vital importance to the people of Kerala.

To help with this four apps – SARPA, SnakeHub, Snake Lens, and Snakepedia –  have recently been released for smart phones. The apps include information about the snakes of India in general and species-specific information of those snakes found in Kerala. Depending on the app, consumers can seek information on habitat and danger level, advice on snake bites, the location of hospitals carrying anti-venom, contact details of snake rescuers and common misconceptions about each species.

Image Credit: Vivek Doshi on Unsplash

The apps are accessible to a wide range of users as long as they have an Android-based mobile. SnakeHub, developed by Indriyam Biologics, acts as a database that clearly informs on the potential danger of a snake species using a simple colour-coding system and is available in both English and Malayalam. Snake Lens, developed by the MVR Snake Park and Zoo, includes a database of common poisonous snakes and their doppelgangers, and can be used without the need for an internet connection.

It is not only members of the general public who are using the apps: for doctors in Kerala, identifying the source of a snakebite is vital in its treatment. Previously, doctors would use Facebook and WhatsApp groups to help with snakebite patients. Snakepedia acts as an expansion on these groups and includes images, information and podcasts relating to many species of snake.

Image Credit: James Wainscoat on Unsplash

The apps don’t just help protect the public from snakes: they also help protect the snakes from the public. It is not unusual that when a snake is encountered, it is killed, despite it possibly posing no threat to human life. SARPA was developed by the Kerala forests and wildlife department in a bid to assist its trained officers and volunteers with the rescue of snakes. The app works by alerting rescuers when a member of the public has encountered a snake and has uploaded an image and location. The rescuers can then attend the incident and remove the snake, avoiding it being killed by a concerned citizen.

Such apps provide a brilliant example of the use of technology in the preservation and protection of lives, both human and snake, and could easily be adapted to other species - not just snakes - where the need and information databases exist.

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