“Growing up in Dalsagar village of Bihar, I would notice that as monsoons approached, there would be several snakes around our mud homes. But as soon as the villagers would spot the reptiles, they would kill them,” says Hariom Chaubey, an 18-year-old.
As he would later learn, every year 300 people in Buxar, Bihar, alone die as early intervention is not done following a snake bite. Hariom spent his youth helping the people of Bihar by performing snake rescues, and eventually even went on to set up an animal rescue centre that tended to domestic animals.
This is his story.
On observing the harsh treatment met out to the reptiles by the villagers, Hariom decided to save the reptile the next time it was at the mercy of someone.
“The first time I rescued a snake was when I was 12,” he says, adding that he let it free in a talaab (lake) in the village, and would go see it every day. However, when Hariom’s family got wind of this, they were upset and discouraged the young boy from associating himself with snakes.
Then one birthday, Hariom had a visit from an uncle who lived in South India. On learning about the young boy’s passion for snakes, he gifted him a book titled ‘Snakes of India’.
“This was the best gift,” recounts Hariom, saying that he ardently read and studied the book for four years. Through the descriptions and pictures, he learnt about reptiles, first aid for a bite, which snakes are venomous and how a snake could be rescued.
Contrary to his family’s opinion about the reptiles, Hariom believed they were harmless. He was certain that one needed to know how to handle them, and once again began his rescues.
Snake rescues soon turned into his side hustle.
“People had come to know about my fascination for rescuing snakes and in 2019, when I got my first phone, I began getting calls from the villagers asking me to come to help them get rid of the snakes that would be near their homes.”
Recalling a frightening incident, Hariom says it was the time he rescued 35 cobras all from a single house. “It had started as one, and then that one had given birth to the many others. It was an infestation,” he recounts.
However, he adds that despite his good work, society never understood him and always looked at him as a snake charmer. They even went on to tell his parents that he was performing an ‘unholy’ act.
In 2020, the blind beliefs of the villagers were only strengthened when a man in the village succumbed to a snake bite and died.
“The villagers believed that the Gods hadn’t heard their prayers and were convinced that the man must have been punished for something,” says Hariom. In an attempt to stop the fear-mongering and explain to people the logic behind death due to snake bites, Hariom began going to every home, spreading these messages among the community. He would tell people the importance of keeping the home clean, swabbing it, etc. and thus educate them well.
Then in April 2021, he got a call that changed his life.
Setting up a rescue centre
“The call was from Discovery Channel,” says Hariom. “They were shooting a segment in Siliguri and it involved snakes and someone had told them about my work.”
During the time he spent at Siliguri, he discovered a rescue centre that would save animals that were hurt and injured and release them back into the wild. Hariom loved this concept and wrote a plea to the Government on his return to Bihar to give him a piece of land to do the same.
However, since they declined, he leased out a space measuring 10 kathas (6000 sq ft) in Churamanpur and to build the rescue centre, he started charging for snake rescues. Some people were frequent callers for the rescues and he would take Rs 100 a month from them.
Hariom’s rescue centre was ready on 25 December 2021. He says he was getting around 25 calls every day for rescues of dogs, cats, monkeys, snakes and cows.
Recounting some rescues that he holds close to his heart, he says one was of a goat that had three legs. “When I received a call informing me of this, I had a lorry arranged and brought the animal to me. It stayed with us at the rescue centre for a month and then we sent it back.”
Another was of an owlet.
“Someone had shot the owl and the young ones had fallen near the tree,” says Hariom adding that for three months they fed the owls and then released them. But the birds would always come back to the nest that had been set up at the rescue centre.
The medicines of the animals at the centre were being ordered from Siliguri and villagers often donated too.
However, in February, someone set the rescue centre ablaze. Hariom lost everything.
Rebuilding his hopes
Thankfully, he says, no animals were hurt in the process. In the last 10 days preceding the fire, they had let the animals free since they had recovered.
Disheartened by the fire, Haiom says that after this incident he stopped taking donations from people. He was determined to rebuild the rescue centre, but this time at his own expense.
He began charging Rs 1,000 for every snake he rescued, and in seven months he had collected Rs 70,000. Just as he was relieved that now he could rebuild the shelter, he suffered a snakebite from a venomous cobra two months ago.
“I am under treatment for the bite but I continue to get calls for animal rescues. Now I request the caller to send the animal to me. I have a doctor friend who then advises treatment and another friend Rahul who helps. Once the animal is treated, we leave them back from where they came,” he says.
To date, Hariom has rescued 152 animals, including dogs, cats, goats and 3,000 snakes.
“People in my village are very responsible,” he says, adding that everyone is concerned about the welfare of the animals. The doctor and Rahul visit the village cowsheds every Sunday to assess the cows and their health.
They do this for free.
Hariom says once he recovers from the snake bite, he wishes to get back to rescues and thus collect funds for rebuilding the centre.
“I will show people that I am passionate about what I do, and will continue doing it.”
Edited by Yoshita Rao