SRI LANKA
2002


"Venom"

Anuradhapura, North-Central Province

Back in Anuradhapura for our second and longer stay we also ventured out into the rice-paddies where people were cutting the rice - the main occupation leading to snakebite. No snakes turned up while we were present but on a similar trip to the rice paddies a few days later I missed capturing a Dharman ratsnake (Ptyas mucosa).

We moved to another possible area near Anuradhapura, and finally Anslem and I were called to a garden behind some houses where there was a larger pile of brush. A large snake has been seen going into the pile by one of our team who were now spread over a fairly wide area. We surrounded the brush-pile and began to dismantle it, and then we located a large and very aggressive South Asian Russell's viper (Daboia russelii). This was only our second live Russell's viper, the other being from Gampola, despite all our hard labours.

Capturing a Russell's viper, Daboia russelii

 

Second live South Asian Russell's viper, Daboia russelii

 

And then a little later the same day, in the dark driving back to Anuradhapura, I saw the head and a short section of neck of a snake illiminated in the vehicle headlamps. Alerted the snake immediately pulled back into the grass verge but the brilliant white of the supralabials (lip scales) convinced me it was another Russell's viper and when I dived out I was able to capture it in the roadside ditch to which it had retreated.

Third live South Asian Russell's viper, Daboia russelii

 

So now we had three live Russell's vipers for the project, the last two coming on the same day, only one day after several mortally wounded or dead specimens on the road back from Nikaweratiya. It seemed the best time to find Russell's vipers was between 18.30 and 19.50.

At the hotel I used the extensive but under-used gardens to photograph some of the species I had captured, especially the venomous species such as the Humpnose pitviper (Hypnale hypnale) from Gampola, Nikaweratiya, Eppawala and Aluthnuwara; Indian spectacled cobra (Naja naja), from Nikaweratiya and Eppawala, and finally and triumphantly, a couple of Russell's vipers (Daboia russelli) from Gampola, Nikerawatiya and near Anuradhapura. The cobras and humpnose pitvipers were not required for the antivenom program so they were to be released, but the Russell's vipers were kept in a stout box in my room.

 

Mark with Humpnose pitviper, Hypnale hypnale, in the grounds of the hotel
Mark wrangling an Indian cobra, Naja naja, in the grounds of the hotel
Mark wrangling an
Indian cobra
, Naja naja,
in the grounds of the hotel
Mark with a captured
South Asian Russell's viper
, Daboia russelii,
in the grounds of the hotel

The director also required a sequence with a Russell's viper shot on a black set for the top of the show and this was achieved by filming in one of our hotel rooms. We were joined at this point by an enthusiastic young doctor from Anuradhapura Hospital, Dr Aroona Abdulla, who was so interested in what we were doing that she even accompanied us on several of our field excursions to find snakes.

 

Mark wrangling the Russell's viper on set
Preparing to film special sequence in hotel room with Russell's viper, cameraman Mark Stokes, director Mark McMullen, with an enthusiastic
Aroona Abdulla in the background
South Asian Russell's viper, Daboia russelii,
on black background for special sequence

Back at the hospital we were given a room where we could milk the Russell's vipers we caught and Ariaranee and I could perform an experiment to demonstrate the effects of Russell's viper venom on a small quantity of blood taken from myself.

The venom experiment
Milking the Russell's viper, Daboia russelii
Milking the Russell's viper, Daboia russelii
Ariaranee taking blood from Mark introducing blood to a clean tube
and introducing Russell's viper venom
then turning the tubes:
left: venom and blood; right: blood only

The blood with venom introduced quickly coagulated, unlike the pure blood which remains liquid.
However, the effects in a human the effects of a bite are different. Initially many small clots are formed, but these are broken down by the body, then more small clots form and are broken down, until eventually there is no clotting agent left in the blood. The effect then is incoagulable blood with, when combined with the haemorrhagic effects of the venom, can lead to prolonged bleeding into the body and cerebral haemorrhage, ie. a stroke.