Had it not been for the beautiful images of a snake taken by Soumabrata Moulick, a nature photographer from Manas and sent to Abhijit Das of the Wildlife Institute of India, the remarkable rediscovery of a snake species after more than a century would not have been possible.
The blue-bellied kukri snake (Oligodon melaneus Wall) has been rediscovered at the Manas National Park after 112 years. It was last collected in July 1908 from Tindharia in West Bengal, about 267 km west of Manas. The news of the rediscovery of the snake was published in Zootaxa journal.
The rediscovery was made possible with the help of researchers and citizen scientists from different institutions in the world.
“Dada, ei xap tu nu ki (what is this snake)?” This was the text message from one of the local wildlife enthusiasts of the Manas area on May 25, 2021. He photographed a dead snake on a road at the boundary of the Bansbari area of Manas.
“I was clueless with the identification with simple mobile images and this was something that I had never seen before,” Abhijit Das of Wildlife Institute of India told EastMojo on the story behind the rediscovery of the snake.
Das says the images tempted him all the way from Dehradun to go see this snake, but the second COVID lockdown had been enforced at that time. “I asked him if he could get me some better images so that I could count the scales,” he says.
“The enthusiastic boy then found Soumabrata Moulick, a wildlife photographer, who had been stuck at Manas due to the lockdown. He was kind enough to photograph the snake in good detail and communicated the way we operated mostly during the lockdown,” Das says.
For nature photographer Soumabrata Moulick, it was a usual morning walk at Manas, during which he spotted and photographed an immobile snake on the road.
“I went close to see it but the snake was already dead. I took the picture and found it unique. Then I received a call from Abhijit Das at WII. He already knew about the snake and asked me to take some pictures,” Moulick told EastMojo.
Moulick got excited when Das told him he had never seen such a snake before. “When such a comment comes from an authority like Abhijit, it means there is something important happening,” Moulick said.
“I am quite happy as a photographer to be able to contribute something to this discovery,” he says.
For Das and Moulick, it was the belly of the snake that was most striking – with black and bluish speckling.
“After a review of literature and museum and consultation with my collaborator Dr Deepak Veerappan, the snake was identified as blue bellied kukri snake, which was known from two historical specimens – one at Bombay Natural History Museum and the other at Natural History Museum London,” Das told EastMojo.
“It is an exciting rediscovery by citizen science approach,” says Abhijit das, thanking the two nature guides from Manas, wildlife enthusiast Sanjay Magar and Moulick for their respective contributions.
Deepak Veerappan at the Department of Life Sciences, Natural History Museum, London told EastMojo: “I wanted to see and study all the available museum specimens to confirm the identification. I got help from my colleagues Sounak Pal at BNHS and David Gower at NHM in London, which made it possible.”
“It took us a long time to study museum specimens for comparison due to Covid restrictions. But we feel that generating new information about an old species is equally important as discovering a new species and I credit this rediscovery to the wildlife enthusiasts,” Das says.
“The snake appears to be extremely rare from the Terai region and its record from the Manas region has expanded its known range considerably towards the east,” Abhijit says.
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