SRI LANKA
2002


"Venom"

Eppawala, North-Central Province


Eppawala is south of Anuradhapura. In the company of Ariaranee Ariaratnam we visited Eppawala to conduct an experiment with gum-boots. We wanted to find out why villagers harvesting the rice insisted on going barefoot and risking a fatal snakebite when they could avoid all risk wearing inexpensive gum-boots.

Rice harvest at Eppawala with the villagers who tested the gum boots
Filming 'up and pasts' at Eppawala, note the snake warning decal on my vehicle

 

The farmers wore the boots and when interviewed they said they were too hot and uncomfortable, and they preferred to take the risk of a snakebite rather than put up with the continual discomfort.

The usual paddi-worker's barefeet Testing the rubber boots

 

We then started a search of local habitats and found Common Indian treefrogs (Polypedates maculatus), White-nosed bushfrogs (Pseudophilautus leucorhinos - not photographed), Green garden lizards (Calotes calotes) and two more Humpnose pitvipers (Hypnale hypnale). In a pile of coconut husks near the village I caught a large Dharman ratsnake (Ptyas mucosa) and another Sri Lankan cobra (Naja naja).

 

Frogs from Eppawala
Common Indian treefrog, Polypedates maculatus

 

Lizards from Eppawala
Green garden lizard, Calotes calotes

 

Snakes from Eppawala
Dharman ratsnake, Ptyas mucosa
Humpnosed pitviper, Hypnale hypnale
Sri Lankan cobra, Naja naja

 

Mark with the
Dharman ratsnake
, Ptyas mucosa

 

One of the sequences the film required was a Russell's viper crawling through the un-harvested rice-paddy. Since the villagers had not found a viper during their harvest we asked them to leave a small area of a few square metres for us to use for filming with one of our recently captured vipers.

The camera was set and I allowed the largest of our three captive vipers to crawl alongside the edge of the uncut rice-paddy. It crawled a short way on camera, and then suddenly dived into the uncut rice.

We now had a real problem.
The villagers wanted to complete their harvest, cut the remaining few square metres of their crop.
Usually they did not know if there was a dangerous snake in the field, but now they knew for certain there was a large Russell's viper hiding in the small square of unharvested rice.

 


Clearly the viper had to be recaptured, and soon as the afternoon was rapidly turning to evening, so I set to harvesting the rice myself, handful by handful, using the short, curved knives used by the farmers.
This involved reaching down, taking a handful of rice near the ground in the left hand, then cutting it with the knife in the right hand, all the time expecting to be bitten by the Russell's viper.
Fortuntately it was not long before and angrey hiss gave away the viper's position and I was able to recapture it and leave the farmers to complete their harvest before the sun fully went down. Phew, relief!

A rice harvesting knife