• Serpent Hunters And The Curse Of Covid-19
mehmood sorting his catch for remaining clients photo asif mehmood express

Mehmood sorting his catch for remaining clients.

Serpent hunters and the curse of Covid-19

Snake traders find themselves on the short end of the stick post-lockdown

The coronavirus-induced lockdown interestingly affected the snake hunting industry. The ban on snake games and exhibitions crushed the business. The serpent hunters could not sell snakes worth Rs 1,500 to Rs 2,000 at a throw-away price of Rs 1,000 anymore,” said Shahid Mehmood, a snake merchant from Lal Pul Mughalpura area of Lahore.

Mehmood, who has been involved in reptile trade for over four decades, says that he has never experienced the kind of crisis his industry is faced with right now and there has been little of remedy post-lockdown. According to the trader, he would hunt for snakes across Punjab’s mountainous regions all year round expect for winters, and return with at least 50 to 60 serpents of various verities each time. “Monsoon is the best season for snake-hunting, that’s when they slither out of their nests into the open and are easier to spot,” he told.

Sometimes, the Maghalpura hunter would even wander out of the Punjab in search of a bigger catch or return early upon chancing upon a rare ophidian, which he was certain could make a lucrative sale.

“A majority of my clients are snake charmers, hakeems, spiritual healers, hermits and medical colleges. Every once in a while, there would also be someone from the show business industry who would come to me looking for a snake for some film or drama shoot,” told Mehmood. “I don’t do anything illegal though, all species of snake except Pythons can be legally hunted as per the Punjab Wildlife Act,” he added.

Due to the lack of customers, there has also been a severe drop in ophidian prices after the lockdown. Regular snake varieties which once costed Rs 700 to Rs 800 are down to Rs 150 to Rs 200.

According to Mehmood, his entire client base has been thinned down to a few hermits and hakeems, who still require the snakes for their venom and to conduct experiments. “I caught my first snake when I was merely 15 years old. My master had lowered me into a well to hunt a particular serpent. Between then and now, I have experienced many snake bites but none have been deadly.

For me, snake-hunting is a skill, an art form, which requires extreme presence of mind. It has existed on the fringes of society for centuries and passed down from one generation to another.