Neglected by most preservation groups, the Burmese python has a champion in Shariar Caesar Rahman.

Here’s a fact that illuminates many of the realities of global preservation: we know more about Burmese pythons in Florida- where they are a destructive invader- than about their lives in their natural range in Southeast Asia, where their numbers are plummeting and their very long-term survival may be up in the air.

Armed with a shoestring budget and a enjoy for mega-snakes, Shariar Caesar Rahman is trying to rectify this incongruent reality by doing something no one has done in Bangladesh before. He’s affixing radio transmitters to snakes- actually, really big snakes.

Brilliantly-patterned, Burmese pythons can grow as long as 5.5 metres, making them one of the most significant snakes on the planet. Scientists have now been deemed them a species in their own right, after long being considered a subspecies of the Indian boulder python.

” Burmese pythons are either seen by most people as inhabitants of glass cages or as ecological villains in Florida ,” Rahman said.” As a result, there is not an appreciation for this snake in its native wild scope .”

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A Burmese python saw coiled up in a tea plantation in Bangladesh. Photo: Scott Trageser/ NatureStills

The CEO of the Creative Conservation Alliance, Rahman and his team kickstarted their python programme in 2013 in a small park, Lawachara National Park. Just half the size of Epping Forest, Lawachara encompasses 1,250 hectares in northeast Bangladesh. The protected field is surrounded on all side by the towns and tea plantations, building conflict between humans and the big serpents inevitable.

Rahman says the main problem is that Burmese pythons have an affinity for domestic ducks- perhaps discovering them easy to catch or especially delicious. But this duck devouring puts them at odds with the local people.

” Losing a few ducks is huge economic loss for them ,” Rahman said , noting that most of the villagers, who work in tea plantations, are” exceedingly poor .”

By examining how Burmese pythons use their habitat, Rahman hopes to better mitigate such conflict. But before he can do this, he has to situate them. You’d believe finding a five-metre, 90 kilogram snake “wouldve been” pretty straightforward, but their camouflage and cryptic styles induces them nearly invisible.

” We have spent hundreds of hours doing transect surveys in the woodlands of Bangladesh and have rarely considered pythons in the wild ,” Rahman said. So, his squad turned to the villagers who were finding them with disturbing regularity.

Rahman and his squad hired some villagers and trained them as “parabiologists.”‘ Para’ is a Greek prefix meaning’ alongside ‘. Much like a paramedic has the skills to save a life but is no longer an full physician, parabiologists have the basic tools and abilities to do preservation work without the years of analyze and advanced educate.

” Over time, our parabiologists built rapport and gained trust with the villagers and villagers would call them if they encounter pythons in their villages ,” Rahman said.” Our parabiologists would immediately respond to their calls and salvage the pythons and bring it back to our realm station .”

All ten of the snakes involved in such studies were found via parabiologists helping villagers get rid of unwanted guests.

Next, Rahman had to solve was how to fit a radio transmitter on the pythons. Other researchers have done this by fully anesthetizing the animal and then surgically inserting the transmitter under the skin. However, Rahman did not have the equipment necessary put the snake fully under. So he and his squad tried something a little bit different.

They placed captured snakes placed into a large plastic tube to limit their movements and then applied localised anesthetic. Once that took effect, they operated on the serpent to secured the radio transmitter.

” The method used was frowned upon by experts, but we have got very positive results ,” Rahman said.

His team has not lost a single serpent or discovered any signs of infection from the localised surgeries.

” The transmitter stayed inside the serpents, and after one year we were able to capture the serpent again and surgically removed the surgery in accordance with the same procedure ,” he added , noting that they plan to publish a newspaper on the “more efficient” process soon.

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Researchers doing surgery on a python to fit it with a radio transmitter, allowing them to locate it again and track its movements. Photo: Scott Trageser/ Naturestills

The radio transmitters in the snakes permitted Rahman and his team to gather the first data on Burmese pythons in its home: to be incorporated range, movements and habitat apply.

Worryingly, Rahman discovered that the serpents have become attached to village life. Every day the team caught a snake in the villages, they would take it several kilometres away and drop it off in the forest park, far away from the villagers and their ducks. But inevitably the snake would make its behavior back to the village- every time.

” One particular python with transmitter, a thirteen foot female[ 4 metres ], was captured by the villagers eight hours in a year and half. And every time the snake was relocated back to the forest it was ultimately return to the village where it was captured.[ She] lost weight during the process .”

This raises the question of why the snakes keep moving out of the protected field: is the forest already at maximum giant serpent capacity? Has the prey population plunged, forcing the serpents out of the forest due to starvation? Rahman said he doesn’t know and it would require good research on Burmese pythons- who are considered generalist carnivores- to find out. From a preservation view, Rahman meditates if it’s even worthwhile moving the serpents. But the villagers, of course, crave the snakes taken away.

At the same time, the Burmese python’s ecological role has never been more important. As big cat- such as tigers and leopards- have faded across many parts of Asia, pythons have become the new ruler in town, the top predator of big prey.

Rahman’s research is also helping those trying to get rid of pythons in the Florida, according to Bryan Falk, a Research Fellow at the Everglades National Park.

“[ It] can help us predict and understand how Burmese pythons might interact with their environment in Florida. It’s information that adds another part to the puzzle, and every part helps .”

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A hatchling Burmese Python taking a drink from a jungle creek in a remote region of Bangladesh. Photo: Scott Trageser/ NatureStills

The biggest conundrum wildlife directors in Florida face is simply acquiring the big snakes, who have an uncanny ability to disappear in a landscape like the Everglades.

” The likelihood of procuring a python is somewhere abound 1 in 100, meaning that for every python that a python-searcher acquires, they missed 99 “thats been” concealing nearby. Along with our partners, we are working to solve this problem…because right now it baffles nearly every possible solution ,” Falk said.

The Burmese python is currently listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN Red List yet the snake- and its relatives- are still widely and often legally trafficked as pets and sometimes for their portions.

” Many of the more popular reptiles in the pet trade are of tropical origin, and is also possible exported in large numbers…This makes a situation in which species that are actually waning is a possibility heavily exploited for commercial purposes, but yet may be given little preservation attention because of a perception that the species are quite common due to their ubiquity in captive situations ,” said Rahman.

Shariar Caesar Rahman results a team to capture a 3.3 metre long Burmese python in a Bangladeshi village.

Reptiles are almost always at the bottom of the heap when it is necessary to the preservation of vertebrates( though they still fare better arguably than most invertebrate species, which, of course, make up the bulk of life ). For instance, while the IUCN has evaluated 100 percentage of fowls and mammals, and 86 percentage of amphibians, it has only assessed 56 percentage of the world’s reptiles. The reticulated python, another python species from Asia, has never been evaluated.

And when’s the last time anyone can remember any of the big conservation groups operating a campaign to save a serpent?

” If person were to hold a wild Burmese python and took a close look at it they would recognize how beautiful they are ,” Rahman said.” I don’t want to suppose a world without giant snakes in it .”

To maintain pythons- and other snakes from extinction- the first thing to do is change positions. The government of Bangladesh’s Forestry Department has partnered with Rahman’s organization to raise awareness.

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Researchers taking measurements of Burmese python. Photo: Scott Trageser/ NatureStills

Mihir Doe, a forest policeman, said the programme is working to do just that. He said that in the portion year the government has rescued 15 pythons and liberated them back in forest areas.

” In these cases, local people informed us and they did not kill those python ,” Doe said.” It builds us optimistic to conserve the species .”

But the government also needs to make sure the pythons have a home to go to. Deforestation and fragmentation is rampant across South and Central Asia, leaving tens of thousands- maybe more- species with fewer homes every year.

” I guess developed nations should invest more on protection and restoration of tropical woods. We can only ensure the long term survival of this magnificent species by safeguarding their habitat-tropical groves and wetlands ,” Rahman said, who noted that it was ” ironic” that millions are spent trying to kill off the pythons in the Everglades, while next to nothing is spent trying to protect them in their home scope.

And in forests that are still standing, more law enforcement is needed to protect species like pythons from poaching and trafficking, whether it be for body parts, traditional drug, bushmeat or the pet trade.

Scientists believe that Burmese python populations have plunged at the least 30 percentage of over just the last decade. A stunning figure that highlights just how bad the world biodiversity crisis has become: a well-known species can fell nearly a third in ten years yet little is to be implemented immediately for the species and almost no one is raising the alarm.

It also shows that humankind’s long ambivalence towards serpents may in the end be their doom- as our myopia is a possibility the doom of many wild things that scuttle underneath. Yet even as many of us may feeling a certain fear and loathing toward our serpentine kin- and some researchers believe that its inborn– it doesn’t mean they don’t deserve a place on our planet, like all creatures great and small, loved and, yes, even by some( but not all ), loathed.

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Research team implanting a PIT tag into a Burmese python for the Bangladesh Python Project. Photo: Scott Trageser/ NatureStills

Creative Conservation Alliance has partnered with the Bangladesh Forest Department, the Center for Advanced Research in Natural Resource in Management( CARINAM) in Bangladesh and The Orianne Society in the US. It has received financing support from The Explorers Club, Rufford Small Grants, Columbus Zoo, Idea Wild and the Auckland Zoo.

Read more: https :// www.theguardian.com/ surrounding/ radical-conservation/ 2017/ sep/ 26/ burmese-pythons-snakes-bangladesh-tracking-radio-rahman-conservation