Sarp, a pleasure to behold
By CAROL MATROO Sunday, January 6 2013
Snakes, like cows, are considered sacred to Hindus, and that is why head of the Hindu Prachar Kendra, Ravi Ji, is torn between whether the 18-foot anaconda, named “Sarp” should be released back into the wild, or should remain at the Emperor Valley Zoo.
Ravi Ji said Hindus consider the lives of all animals to be sacred.
“There are rituals through which Hindus treat animals and therefore understand the sacred nature to respect it. That is also tied up with one of the important elements of Hinduism that by and large, vegetarianism is expected as a way of life through which we treat all life,” he said.
Ravi Ji said while snakes have a fearsome presence, in the context of ecology, snakes played an interesting role of control and order because “it prevents many things from becoming horrific and destructive.”
Sarp, which has become the star attraction at the Emperor Valley Zoo, attracting thousands of visitors, was found sunning itself along a private road opposite the Caroni cremation site last Sunday. The Hindu God, Shiva, is depicted with a snake coiled around his neck, but Ravi Ji said this was not the reason the snake was considered sacred.
“It is sacred because in itself it is sacred and it finds its place on Shiva as does everything else. In the depiction (of Shiva) there is a bull, birds and other animals and plants that are sometimes inimical to each other. In Shiva’s presence they all co-exist peacefully,” he said. So should Sarp remain at the zoo or be taken back to wild.
“My grandson said we should send it back to the lake and I agree with him, its place is in the wild. But as a citizen, I thought it is such a special thing that it should be kept carefully in the zoo, so that our children would be able to see it, so I am torn between these options. “As a Hindu instinctively, let it go back into the wild. As a citizen and especially in the need for bringing man and animals closer, I think it has a special function in society to be kept in the zoo, but it must be in a large place where it can move around,” Ravi Ji said.
President of the Zoological Society of Trinidad and Tobago (ZSTT) Gupte Lutchmedial said his first choice would be to release her back in the wild, but he said there were a lot of people getting involved right now in Sarp’s future.
“People from the United States are showing interest and there is a committee of people putting forward protocol of how we should handle it, and what we shouldn’t do.
“Somebody is coming in on Tuesday and we would listen to what they had done with snakes before,” he said. Lutchmedial said for Sarp to reach this great size, she would have been queen of her territory which could be up to 50 acres. He said she would have eaten the predators and controlled how she lived there.
“If you put her in a territory, now she’ll have to establish a new territory. It may not be wise to put her back in Caroni because she may come back out, have conflict again and at this time of the year when it was cold, snakes were coming out to get some body heat.
“She wants to stay alive and, of course, if she is bearing eggs she would want them to develop, that is the reason she came out on the road. I’m not saying don’t put her back in Caroni, but she may come back out on the road and a car may bounce her because she was 100 feet from a major road,” he said.
He said anacondas could grow up to 24-25 feet in length under the right conditions and could continue to grow. He added that on average these snakes grew one foot a year, so if she was 18 feet long, Sarp could be 17 or 18 years old.
On average they lived up to 12 years because in the wild they would either be eaten or die, but they could live in captivity for up to 30 years, he said.
“A female will lay 90 eggs not to overpopulate, but for the chances of four or five to live. The Caroni Swamp has turned into natural vegetation for anacondas and the climate they like, so we are finding them more and more in the abundant cane lands of Caroni, so it will be the ideal habitat for them.
They cannot live in the brackish water of the Caroni River, so the abundant Caroni lands is ideal, it might even be better than Nariva Swamp. “You have new grasslands, highland, lowland, water and for her to get that big that fast she must have less competition, lots of food and the right temperature,” he explained.
Lutchmedial admitted that there was a fear factor among people living in the area that there was a big snake out there.
“If they don’t know, they don’t know, but now that they know it is difficult to put Sarp back in Cunupia because we have a lot of people from there and Monroe Road who are saying, do not put the snake back in that area,” he said.
He said while she could be a danger to people, they should remember that they were not part of her diet.
“But, if a crab catcher or somebody goes into that area, that snake will kill you and I think people would be stupid to go and look for it in the first place. I am just concerned about the safety of the reptile,” he said. Lutchmedial said he had only once before seen an anaconda this size, in 2000, in the Nariva Swamp.
“I held its tail and it just continued moving, it did not even acknowledge me. I just held it to see the reaction. These snakes are so elegant and dominant and they are not afraid of anybody or anything because they will eat anything that threatens their habitat. Their main source of food would be caimans,” he said.
“We have enough things to worry about in the country like getting killed by a bullet. Thousands of people are coming to the zoo just to see the snake. This is something pleasurable. What do we have to celebrate at this time? One snake has changed that,” Lutchmedial said.
While an examination has not shown signs of “Sarp” being pregnant, Lutchmedial said they could not rule out the possibility.
“Because the snake is in a coiled position, the ultra sound does not say no, but it did not see anything large enough to say that there were eggs or anything, but it is not exact to say it is not pregnant. They felt that they wanted to come back when the snake was a little more relaxed,” he said. Asked if it did turn out the reptile was indeed pregnant, did people have to worry about large male snakes around, Lutchmedial assured that this did not pose a problem to humans.
“It is the largest imbalance in a species between male and female in the world where the male is one fifth the size of the female. The males are smaller, slimmer and move more quickly because they have to compete with other males,” he explained.