WATCH | Snake catchers from India are brought in to help rid the Florida Everglades of Burmese pythons.
The men of the Irula tribe are a proud people that hold on to their traditions dearly. One of those customs is snake-catching. They are world-renowned for it. For generations, their livelihood depended on their ability to hunt, catch and skin snakes, a practice that has since been made illegal in India.
The Irula tribe are from Tamil Nadu in southern India. Their expertise lies in catching venomous and lethal snakes such as the Russell’s viper, Saw-scaled viper, king cobra, as well as the Burmese python. Armed with only a machete, the tribesmen can navigate most terrains in search of snakes.
Many of the Irula now work with the Indian government to help run a venom center for victims of snake bites. Tens of thousands of people die every year in India from snake bites. Irula tribesmen use their skills to catch snakes and extract their venom which is then used to help produce antidotes.
Wildlife experts in the United States took note of the unique skill set of the Irula tribe.
Officials in the Florida Everglades have been coping with the expanding presence of invasive Burmese pythons. These pythons are not native to the Everglades and began to appear in the 1980s.
State authorities speculate people who had these snakes as pets released them into the wild when they no longer wanted to care for them. By the mid 1990s, the problem had become so rampant that a number of species in the Everglades were threatened with extinction.
The government estimates between 10,000 and 100,000 Burmese pythons are in the Florida Everglades.
In early 2016, members of the Irula tribe were recruited by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to capture invasive Burmese pythons that have been rapidly spreading throughout the Everglades.
The results were immediate. In less than a month, 26 pythons were caught. And while the Irula had a brief stay in Florida, there is no doubting their impact. State officials have not ruled out bringing them back.
Anand P., a proud Irula member and snake catcher, puts it simply.
“Snake catching is in our blood," he said.
“Our lives are fulfilled being snake catchers."