I am not kidding when I say this – Agumbe is the home of King Cobras. Go at the right time, and you could well be face to face with one.
Agumbe is located 560 metres above sea level and, with an average annual rainfall of 7000 – 8000 mm, is one of the wettest spots on the planet.
I went looking the folks at the Agumbe Rainforest Research Station (ARRS) – set up in Agumbe by Romulus Whitaker in 2005 to encourage field studies in rainforest ecology.
The ARRS is not east to find though – it was an auto rickshaw driver who could guide me eventually. Some other people I asked had no clue what I was talking about.
My impression was that ARRS is a reserve for King Cobras and I would see some in an enclosure – but it was not to be. And a forest trek did not bring me any closer to any lethal species. Summers are the wrong time of the year for this.
What I did hear a lot of were the Cicadas – an insect that makes a loud, whirring sound. All these chaps kept going off by turn, making quite a racket.
And I did spot a Draco Dussumiere from the lizard family. Also known as the Southern Indian Flying Lizard for its ability to glide from tree to tree using the Patagium, the name for its wings. Hard to spot except those with trained eyes.
Also spotted a brighter coloured species from the lizard family, the Calotes Rouxii.
The King Cobra Telemetry project has been one of the major achievements of ARRS: radio transmitters were inserted inside five Cobras in 2009 who were then set free. They were followed during daytime all year round at a distance of 10 metres and their behaviour recorded. Unfortunately, two have since then died, another two lost but M4 (Male 4) is still being a good boy.
Some of the observations include nesting, male combat (especially when they fight to kill for the right to mate with a female), monitoring nests and hatching of eggs, courtship, mating and cannibalism including in a mating pair.
ARRS also works with local communities and students to create awareness about issues they are working on, and to involve them in their projects.
Despite the dangers posed by the King Cobras, locals never kill them. In fact, they are worshipped by them and you can see several shrines dedicated to these species. The ARRS is thus called to rescue Cobras and relocate them (being very territorial, the snakes must be left within five miles of where they are found or they could die otherwise).
The ARRS is manned by a group of motivated professionals and volunteers – living away from much of the world. My summer visit seemed a pleasant one, but horror stories abound when the monsoons come: there is water all over, everything goes mouldy, and leeches have a feast on humans. But it is also the time when they get some of their best work done.
The ARRS is spread over 10 acres: of this, six acres are for buildings and plantations while the rest is rainforest.
The ARRS provides any necessary support to visiting researchers, connecting them to forest officials and arranging for trackers, and taking care of all logistics and permits.
You can always sign up to spend time with the team at ARRS. For a longer intern-ship or just a visit – they even have some rooms and tents for visitors at a nominal charge.
You can pay them a visit too and, amongst other things, engage in trekking, monitoring King Cobra nest till hatching of eggs, joining a King Cobra rescue call, setting cameras and video traps, doing photography yourself and more.
Electricity at ARRS is solar generated, while water from a nearby spring can be consumed without any filtration.
Contact ARRS: email@example.com; +91.8181.223081 / 233186; http://www.agumbe.com/AgumbeRainforestResearchStation_ARRS.asp
Ajay Jain is currently on the Great Arabian Sea Drive, starting from Delhi and following the coastline all the way from Gujarat down to Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Follow all updates on:
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