P. Gowri Shankar was 18 when he first came up close with a King Cobra. He spent most of his days outside its enclosure at the Bannerghatta Zoo, and one day, the caretaker invited him inside. It was a meeting Shankar would never forget, one that further cemented his attraction towards the King. “He knew there was a new person in his presence,” he recalls. “He lifted his hood and turned towards me, looking me straight in the eye.” Shankar realised that this was no ordinary snake, one that scuttles away at the mere sign of a human being. Here was a creature that saw; that made calculated moves.
The 40-year-old herpetologist, who has dedicated his life to studying King Cobras, given their highly venomous nature (“A bite can kill you in 20 minutes,” he says), is among the very few in the country to pursue the subject. Shankar was in the city to hold workshops on snakes for children and adults over the weekend. It was organised by Bay of Life Surf School and Kālinga Centre for Rainforest Ecology (KCRE), in association with Chennai Snake Park.
Called ‘STORM’ (Scientific Training on Reptile Management), the workshops, that consist of presentations and discussions, are Shankar’s brainchild. “They come in various levels,” he explains. There are a range of workshops — from those for people curious about snakes, to those targeted at people who want to be trained to handle and rescue them. Shankar holds three workshops a year in Chennai and Mysore. They are his way of educating people to coexist with snakes.