Dhaka,  Sunday
21 July 2024

Russell’s viper in 27 districts, panic across the country

Sanjay Adhikari Rony, Dhaka

Published: 08:30, 21 June 2024

Russell’s viper in 27 districts, panic across the country

Photo: Collected

Russell's viper, known for its venomous bite, has reappeared prominently in Bangladesh after a long absence. Beginning in 2012, sightings of Russell's viper have been reported in the Barind area, and its presence has since spread to numerous districts across the country.

According to the Venom Research Center, Russell's viper has now spread to 27 districts in Bangladesh, with a notable concentration in areas along the Padma river. Researchers attribute this spread to favorable weather conditions that have enabled the viper's proliferation.

Tragically, the venomous bites of Russell's viper have resulted in significant fatalities, with at least 18 deaths reported from snakebites treated at Rajshahi Medical College Hospital in the past 18 months alone. The increase in Russell's viper sightings and subsequent fatalities underscores the urgent need for enhanced awareness, preventive measures, and medical response strategies to mitigate the impact of these venomous snakes on local communities.
Russell's viper has spread in Rajshahi, Natore, Naogaon, Chapainawabganj, Pabna, Jaipurhat, Jhenaidah, Meherpur, Kushtia, Jashore, Satkhira, Chuadanga, Rajbari, Faridpur, Madaripur, Shariatpur, Manikganj, Munshiganj, Dhaka, Chandpur, Laxmipur, Noakhali, Barisal, Patuakhali, Bhola, Barguna and Jhalakathi district.

However, Russell's Viper is most prevalent in Chapainawabganj and Rajshahi. In one and a half years, 68 people have been admitted to Rajshahi Medical College and Hospital alone due to snake bites and 18 people died.

According to data from Rajshahi Medical College Hospital, 202 people were hospitalised due to Russell's viper bites in Rajshahi region alone from 2018 to 2023. Among them, 62 people died. And so far this year, at least 10 people have died due to Russell's viper bites in various districts including Rajshahi, Rajbari and Manikganj.

Russell's viper looks like a baby python. Scottish surgeon Patrick Russell came to work in India during British rule. In 1796 he researched about this snake. This snake is named after him. Russell's viper is somewhat lazy and its main food is mice, frogs, insects. So, it can be seen in cropland. As a result, farmers in many areas are in panic.

The researchers said that Russell's viper is found mainly in Chandpur, Madaripur, Manikganj and even Dhaka in the Padma basin. It is the only venomous snake that gives birth without eggs. A female Russell's viper can give birth to up to 70 young at a time, most of which survive.

Professor Robed Amin, line director of NCDC of the Directorate of Health, said, “Excessive humidity and excessive heat are being felt due to climate change. And the amount of water in the river is increasing. Saline area is also increasing. Such an environment is perfect for Russell's Viper. Not only for their survival, but also for their reproduction.”

Professor Aniruddha Ghosh, Chief Researcher of Venom Research Center, said, “The part of India which is adjacent to our Rajshahi area, it came here through Ganga, Padma with water through that region. It was found that it spread through the river itself. They are present in the lower areas of Padma as well as in the upper areas.”

In the meantime, 50 Russell's Vipers have been collected by the Health Department. Anti-venom is being researched. At present, anti-venom made in India is given to these snakes when people are bitten. In this regard, Professor Robed Amin said, “When our own anti-venom is developed against our own snakes, then we will be able to say that we are able to provide proper services to patients bitten by these snakes. Till then we have to rely on India's antivenom.”

Farid Ahsan, Supernumerary professor of Department of Zoology of Chittagong University has researched the re-emergence of Russell's viper in Bangladesh and the risk to humans from this snake. He said that the snake was completely extinct, it is not like that. There was no record but the snake was in fact there. As the research was not done at that stage, it was not understood then. But from the year 2013 its existence was felt again.

He also said that one of the reasons for the increase in the number of Russell's vipers is that this snake gives birth directly, not lay eggs. So, their survival rate is high. This snake was already present in Barind region. The area used to have one crop per year. Now there are two or three crops. There are more rats due to more crops. And this mouse is the main food of Russell's viper.

Furthermore, researchers have noted that some snakes, including Russell's vipers, are potentially entering Bangladesh by hitching rides on hyacinth mats carried downstream during the monsoon season. This phenomenon is particularly observed along the route where the Padma River enters Bangladesh towards Shibganj upazila of Chapainawabganj district.

The cutting of bushes and vegetation along certain sections of the Padma Basin has also been cited as a contributing factor. This alteration in habitat may have facilitated the movement of Russell's vipers downstream, extending their presence as far as Shariatpur district along the Padma Basin. 

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