Aliyu Usman, a commercial bus driver, was on a routine trip to Gombe from Kaduna when a long snake crossed his path. Aliyu wasted no time to crush the helpless reptile as it struggled to cross the slippery tar.
For that deed, Aliyu received applause from his passengers for “a job well done”.
Across all lands and climes, snakes have been generally regarded by man as dangerous creatures that deserved no mercy once spotted; not with the deadly venom with which the creeping reptiles had sent many victims to their early graves.
However, some environmentalists and medical experts are of the view that snakes are not as dangerous to human existence after all, as they play a worthy role in largely stabilising the eco-system.
To these experts, snakes only attack humans in self-defence whenever they are faced with a looming threat. They add that the snakes’ venom only help them to kill preys for their own foods.
Besides, they say that some species of snakes are special food delicacies, just as they also render environmental, agricultural, economic and medical benefits to humanity.
Dr Abubakar Ballah, the Medical Officer in charge of the Anti-Snake Venom Trial Centre in Kaltungo, Gombe State, has dealt with snakes for decades and he warns that there are dangers inherent in decimating snakes in the environment.
“Any such action at decimation will distort the eco-system, thereby creating far-reaching negative consequences on food production,’’ he says.
“If we kill all the snakes or reduce their population drastically, the rodents and insects that feed on our crops will multiply excessively, as there will not be primary predators as snakes to check their multiplication,’’ he adds.
Abubakar recalls incidents in India and Brazil in the 1950s when, in the process of constructing irrigation dams, Fadama fields that had served as natural habitats for snakes were cleared.
“Most of the snakes were killed and after the farmers had planted wheat in the surrounding areas, there was virtually nothing to take home during harvest time because rodents, mostly rats, had eaten everything up.
“The Brazilians had to introduce a policy whereby people were encouraged to kill the rats and use same in settling their taxes, so as to reduce the population of the destructive rodents,’’ he says.
Conceding that snake attacks could be disastrous, Abubakar, nonetheless, advises that “you only kill snakes that threaten to harm you.
“It is not enough to go all out, looking for snakes to eliminate without any justification whatsoever,’’ he says.
Abubakar also highlights the medical value of certain species of snakes from time immemorial.
“Perhaps, the most salient value of snakes, which most people are ignorant about, is that they help ageing women to look ‘younger’, while actualising their desire to remain as ‘ladies’.
“The black Spiting-Cobra species can help ageing women, who want to look younger, to realise their dreams.
“The venom of the black Spitting-Cobra serves as a perfect antidote to wrinkles; it has the capacity to relax facial and body muscles, thus making the entire body to become smooth,” Abubakar says.
“For those who dread wrinkles, especially females, all they need do is to apply a little dose of the venom and their faces will be as smooth as ‘sweet-sixteen”, he further reveals.
The medical expert insists that snakes do not just bite for biting sake but do so as a measure of self-defence whenever they sensed danger.
“The snake often bites when taken unawares. It is either you stepped on it or came too close to it; in which case, it sees you as an aggressor. If it has the chance, it runs away but if by its calculations, it cannot make it, it bites you,’’ explains Abubakar.
Sharing similar sentiments, Malam Babayo Suleiman, Coordinator of “Jewel Habitat 2000 and Beyond”, a Gombe-based NGO which addresses environmental matters, says that snakes play a major role in ensuring a balance in the eco-system.
“Snakes feed on a wide variety of insects that have the capacity to reproduce massively. Such multiplication, if not checked, can create both environmental and economic problems such as locusts’ and grasshoppers’ invasions,’’ he says.
Regardless of the economic values of snakes to man and the environment, analysts believe that a change of the people’s negative perception of snakes remains a daunting task, against the backdrop of the fatality associated with snake bites, particularly in the snake-belt region of northern Nigeria.
They also allude to the high cost of treating snake bites, which further increases the people’s resentment for the reptile.
Kaltungo is a town in Gombe State, which falls within the snake-belt region of Nigeria and it has a fair population of “carpet-vipers’’, widely acknowledged for their high multiplication rates.
Troubled by the increased incidents of snake bites in the area recently, the Emirate Council of the area offered a reward of N200 for every killed snake and this inducement sent the hitherto idle youths in the area on active duty.
However, Alhaji Ibrahim Ahmadu, the District Head of Kaltungo, recalls that guidelines were given as to the kind of snakes to kill, being conscious of some economic benefits of the dreaded reptile.
“Only snakes that strayed into the town are supposed to be killed to prevent them from wreaking havoc. Some youths had been going into the bush to kill snakes and present same to us for money but we always investigate before paying them,’’ he explains.
As environmentalists continue to plead for the survival of snakes in the environment, other citizens have been querying the rationale behind allowing snakes to continue to live in the environment.
No doubt, there is consensus of opinion that a balance needs to be struck between hazards posed by snakes and their economic benefits to man and the environment, so as to preserve the eco-system.
Salihu writes for NAN.