Economic Importance of Snakes
Majority of the snakes are harmless and even beneficial to men and are of great economic importance. The various aspects of snake as an animal of economic importance are :
In Rodent Control
Snakes feed on rodents-rats, mice and squirrels which are pests of crops as well as stored products. The problem of rat control is very serious because of the tremendous loss caused by them at every stage of the crop like in the field, farm and store houses. Some tree snakes feed on grasshoppers. Russell’s viper has a great liking for rats.
Similarly in America the economic value of rattle snakes has been realized due to their destruction of rabbits, squirrels and grasshoppers. Before applying any method of control, consideration should be given as to the economic aspect to find out whether loss by rodents to agriculture is greater or danger from snakes to human life.
Tribals in Mysore in 1951 caught harmless snakes for the value of their skin. Thus, the normal natural control over rat population at that time could not be applied. Hence the rats created havoc in those areas with the result that a legislation had to be introduced by the Government making the catching of snakes an offence (Srivastava, 1977).
Live Snakes and Snake Skin
Live snakes are in great demand and are purchased for various purposes like venom extraction and other requirements. These are even exported to foreign countries for exhibition shows, zoological gardens, to show men for exhibiting snakes to public and manufacture of leather goods. Even in India there are hundreds of families who depend for their livelihood on exhibiting snakes. These men are known as “Snake charmers‘ and they charge money for such shows. Amongst Hindus there is a particular day in the year ‘Nagpanchami’ (August or September) when snakes particularly Cobras are worshiped. The fangs of such snakes for exhibition are already extracted.
The skin of snakes are in great demand particularly outside India. In West European countries the leather products of snake skins are very popular. They prepare belts, wallets, purses, comb and cigarette cases, tobacco pouches and cufflink heads. In addition to these other articles prepared are sports jackets, caps, shoes and even neckties. In Brazil in Sao Pando books also bound in snake skin.
Snakes as Food
Snakes are eaten in many countries of the world. It is eaten in China, Burma and even in many parts of rural and tribal India particularly in the hilly most eastern region and by wild tribes of Madhya Pradesh.
The gall bladder of snakes is utilized for making wine and also some medicines. It is eaten raw as an aphrodisiac. In Japan Institute of snakes, wine is prepared. In U.S.A. canned garter snakes are sold as food. Rattle snake meat is rated to be most palatable.
The eggs of the snakes are also eaten in some parts of India.
In Ayurveda, use of snake fat for medicinal purpose is very well recognized. Snake oil therapy has been used since ancient times. Viper snake oil was recommended for some medicinal purposes particularly for massage on knee in gout and arthritis and even on other joints. In Europe rattle snake oil, is favoured for such purposes. Many other uses of the oil are :
- Relief of frozen limbs, bruises, aches and sprains.
- To absorb tumors or swellings.
The snake venom is a mixture of protein substance, cellular debris, fatty mater and salts such as calcium, ammonium and magnesium chloride and phosphate. It contains toxic substances like haemotoxin and neurotoxin which affects the various functional units of the body resulting in death. All venoms are not of the same variety but they differ in their chemical nature. Now-a-days in the era of advancement in the medical sciences and technology, snake venom is in great demand. It is being used for the manufacture of antivenin and for being used in the treatment of a number of diseases. In ancient days the primitive tribes used the snake venom during war by applying it to the tip of the arrows for poisoning them.
Snake venom is in great demand for the manufacture of antivenin primarily at Haffkin’s Institute, Mumbai and Central Research Institute Kasauli. Serum Institute near Pune is also preparing polyvalent antivenin. The use of snake venom in relieving pain and some other muscular disabilities is becoming more common day by day. In large number of patients suffering from neural leprous Cobra venom solutions are giving relief from pain. It is also being recommended in chromic pains of nervous and muscular origin, arthritis, epilepsy and inoperable malignant diseases.
- Land snake venom : Cobra venom is very costly in the world of medicines. It is used in the preparation of pain relieving tablets and injections. This venom is useful in the case of intractable cancer pain, neuritis, arthralgia, neuralgia, migraine and neuralleprosy. The cobra is preferred because its toxicity is not much and the main advantage is that it is not depressing for higher centres of brain. In case of narcotic addiction for opium it can be substituted. In homeopathy it is very effective in cardiac diseases.
The venom of Russell’s viper can be used as a haemostatic factor because of its coagulating quality. It has been used in cases of haemophilia and haemorrhages due to other reasons. Its graded solution has been used to prevent extra bleeding from uterus, retina and by the dentists in excessive bleeding.
In homeopathy the venom of rattle snake is of great use in certain diseases like epilepsy, asthama, neurolgia, neuritis, lumbago, sciatica, coccygodynia, laryngitis, pleuracy, debility, nerve exhaustion and insomnia.
Cobra venom is used in the preparation of certain Rasas e.g., Suchikaharan. Ras has proved to be very effective against cholera and tuberculosis; Vishayanmatra in sudden fall of temperature and blood pressure. There is a popular belief that the flesh and skin of certain snakes is also of medicinal value. Even the exuvia of some snakes powered and mixed in oil is applied externally.
In Unani system of medicine the blood of snake cures leucoderma. Similarly a preparation of arsenic and dead cobra is externally applied for leucoderma and syphilis rashes and another preparation of venom, arsenic, opium and musk is used as an aphrodisiac tonic.
- Sea snake venom : Though India has a large sea coast but less attention has been paid to the sea snake venoms. The nature of sea snake venom is neurotoxic. The possible cause of death of victim is due to respiratory failure, hyperkalemia and neuromuscular paralysis followed by respiratory arrest. The antivenin produced by land snake is ineffective for sea snake venom. The commonwealth Serum Laboratories, Melbourne, Australia has manufactured a refined therapeutic sea snake antivenin which is the only specific cure for sea snake venom.
- Enzymes : A number of enzymes have been isolated from Cobra venom. Neurotoxin paralysis, respiratory movements and in toads it enhances the heart-beat. Cholinesterase present in venom stimulates the heart of a toad, rabbit and some other animals.
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