A snake rescuer in India has died from a bite inflicted as he tried to kiss the reptile – a stunt that appears to be part of a worrisome trend.
Somanth Mhatre, 25, a wildlife activist and veteran snake handler, was called upon to catch a cobra that had entered a vehicle in a Belapur neighborhood.
The rescue was without incident, according to India’s Tribune newspaper. But Mhatre was bitten in the chest while posing in a kissing position with the venomous snake, for a selfie.
He died Saturday, after five days of hospital care, prompting activists to call for stricter guidelines pertaining to snake handling.
"It is very unfortunate that a young life has ended so abruptly," Pawan Sharma, a spokesman for the Resqink Association of Wildlife Welfare, told the Times of India. "His Facebook profile has several pictures of him playing with snakes and even kissing a cobra. Such stunts must be strictly banned."
At least two other Indian snake rescuers have died in the past five months, according to the Times of India, which quoted an unnamed handler as saying: "Many youngsters try stunts with venomous snakes, like cobras and Russell's vipers, and upload photos on social networking sites to become 'popular.' It will be ideal if wildlife rules and regulations are clearly spelled out to stop deadly stunts."
Mid-day.com reports that Mhatre is the 31st Indian snake handler to die in 12 years.
A Mumbai forest official is quoted as saying, "If there is a growing, dangerous trend of performing stunts with snakes, rules can be formulated" to ban such activity.
Condolences for Mhatre and his family were expressed this week on several Facebook pages.
King cobras, which can measure 15-plus feet, are among the planet’s deadliest snakes. They’re famous for rising up and flaring their hoods in a classic cobra pose. They’re typically shy around humans, though, unless provoked.