Exploring One Health through films and collaborations in North-East India
As part of the India Alliance Public Engagement Grant focused on Exploring One Health through films and collaborations in North-East India, we are pleased to introduce two filmmakers, in their own words, who are collaborating with Green Hub, the Institute of Public Health, and Dr. Nandini Velho, ORA India Fellow and Project Lead at Canopy Collective.
Hansatanu Roy: I was born in Tripura to academic parents and was educated in Tripura and Assam, where I earned my Master’s in Theoretical Physics. I have been fascinated by nature all my life, and my natural curiosity has taken me to places that have expanded my ideas about science, nature, and life in general. I am driven by a desire to understand nature through simultaneous exploration, encompassing theory, experimentation, and documentation. I believe that only by bridging the gap between hardcore academia and lived realities can we effectively address fundamental problems and strive for better conservation. I aspire to study lesser-explored habitats and life forms “on the edge,” map our fragile ecosystems and ecological links, and become a more effective storyteller for science and conservation.
Daiolang Paslein: I was born in Dosdewa, Karimganj district, and received my education in Mizoram until Class 8, after which I had to discontinue my studies due to financial problems. I began assisting my parents in farming and cultivation activities while also engaging in sports and other activities. Rejoice Gassah, a Greenhub alumnus from my area, deeply inspired me to learn about wildlife and forests, emphasizing the importance of conservation over hunting animals. I accompanied him and started learning and developing a passion for birdwatching, conservation, and our forests. His inspiration led me to apply to Greenhub, and now, as a fellow, it is my dream to produce wildlife and conservation films in my region and throughout the Northeast, contributing to nature conservation efforts.
They have just returned from two field trips, and along with Green Hub’s Communication Coordinator, Ishita Chigilli Palli, they have compiled a photo update of their work in telling One Health stories from the ground. They are guided by Sumit Sisodiya (Internship Mentor & Technical Head – The Green Hub Project), Dr. Nandini Velho (Project Lead, Canopy Collective & Adjunct Faculty, Institute of Public Health Bengaluru) and Shradha Rathod (Co-author of Snakes of Pakke Tiger Reserve & Canopy Collective Core-group member).
Field Dispatches| One Health Story-telling
“Please hurry up, it’s a huge one and we’re terrified!”
The voices on the other side of the call sound frantic, and they fade into a cacophony by the time we’re out into the streets and dashing to the approximate location. We don’t have a bag, or a hook, or even a plan. And time is of the essence.
This was how my first snake rescue transpired, and led me to a fascinating journey into the layered problem of snakebite management & prevention as part of my Greenhub Internship.
By the time the snake – an innocent Rat snake – was rescued by Arjun Kamdar and me, it was exhausted, hurt and panting with an unforeseen spike in its internal temperature. The encounter had exhausted the poor animal more than the people, who now regarded the slick, black creature with awe & fear as Arjun held it up and gave an impromptu lecture on Snakes & their roles in our lives, and what to do when one encounters a snake living among us. This was in Tezpur, and served as a prelude to our upcoming work on this critical issue.
This last bit about Snakes living among us was what struck me, as my subsequent discussions with Shradha Rathod & Dr. Nandini Velho – our mentors for the project – illuminated this subtle fact vis-a-vis the entire conundrum around Snake bites and their effective management. Snakes indeed live among us, not around or apart. To identify the habitats of snakes and their overlap with our own living spaces, is the first step towards implementing the critically important principle of One Health towards conservation. And thus, we found ourselves in Tippi Range, Pakke Tiger Reserve, armed with cameras and some preliminary research, on the trail of Human-Snake conflict.
I and my friend Daiolang Paslein landed in Tippi on the 12th of September, 2023, as the shooting team from Greenhub. Daiolang, or Daio as we fondly call him, is a young Greenhub fellow belonging to the Khasi community from Dosdewa, Karimganj District, Assam. Having grown up among the lush forests and biodiversity of Dosdewa, he’s a very skilled field person and an enthusiastic budding filmmaker. His extensive knowledge of wildlife comes from years of trekking through forests and birding with Rejoice Gassah, an alumnus of Greenhub himself. His shy demeanor oftens manages to hide his jubilant personality, and the field work left me in awe of his seamless adaptability to any situation.
[Daiolang Paslein out in the field, shooting around the
Kameng River,Tippi,Bhalukpong, Arunachal Pradesh]
Tracking cases of snakebites across the Pakke Tiger Reserve, we started working with RFO Kime Rambia and his team of Snake rescuers working in the Tippi Wildlife Range. Most of the Snake Bites happen during monsoon, and that’s also when most of the rescue calls are responded to by the team. The team is composed of Raju Boro, Hage Tamang, Joy, Krishna, Niranjan and a couple of more forest staff. Only Raju and Hage (or Opo as he’s known) have been trained in Snake Rescue by Gerry Martin at Mysore, while the rest are armed with years of experience and practical knowledge of the ground realities. Our interactions with the team and the wonderful people of Tippi Range gave us a lot of crucial insights into the problem.
Snakebite cases in Arunachal Pradesh range in the hundreds every year, and the lack of effective Snakebite prevention and management infrastructure is a critical gap in addressing the issue. Venomous snakes frequently come into conflict with villagers living in the vicinity of grasslands, wetlands and even inside busy human settlements, which sheds crucial light on the spread of snake habitats well beyond forested regions. As we explored the communities around Tippi Range, we started to gain better insights into the problems faced by them. The traditional livelihood of the communities depends on Non-Timber Forest Produce (NTFP), which include Herbs, Roots, Fruits etc. And a large number of the Snake bites happen on their foraging trips to nearby forested regions and bushes. We spoke to many victims and their testimonies helped us understand the nature of conflicts, the short as well as long term impact on the health and mindset of the victims, the change in perception of snakes and the possible measures to address the issue.
A lot of the snake bite victims gave us valuable insight into the traditional healing practices that bridge the gap where PHCs and medical infrastructure fail. We found a lot of deep-rooted beliefs and myths perpetuated through social memory, and gained insight on the lacunae that exist across the domain, ranging from prevention strategies to snakebite management and holistic health of the communities.
At Tippi, we interacted with the Snake Rescue team led by RFO Kime Rambia, and gained valuable insight into the work and track record of the team. We learnt a lot from Raju Boro and Hage Taposh, who have been trained by Gerry Martin and have successfully led a number of rescues over the years and continue to do so in the entire Bhalukpong area. Their valuable insights into the community mindset and challenges around Snake bite management helped us shape our research and filming immensely.
We also ventured into Seijosa, to cover a different side of the Pakke Tiger Reserve. We were joined by Sharat Kumar Hazarika, alumnus of the 6th Batch of Greenhub for our 2nd trip. As a resident of Udalguri, which borders the Buxa Tiger Reserve, he has been a close witness to Man-Animal conflicts. His wide experience in filmmaking & with communities in Arunachal Pradesh was a much-needed boost to our field work. At Seijosa we interacted with the Nyishi, Boro and Adivasi communities at large, and understood the nature of the problem faced by them on ground. Our interviews with Snake bite survivors helped us gain valuable insight into a diverse group of communities affected by Snake-related conflicts. The lack of medical penetration and efforts by local PHCs and medical staff to bridge the gap were stark and insightful. We also found a diverse range of myths and beliefs across the communities, and also found traditional healers and their methods in absence of adequate medical intervention to be crucial in our understanding of the problem. We found a gradient of perceptions regarding snakes, with a fair amount of negative bias. However, we did find individuals and community voices that regarded snakes with a neutral and even positive light. Across different communities, we did find a variety of perspectives regarding Snake bites, treatment and mitigation strategies, and overall perspectives regarding Snakes and their role in our lives.
[Out on the trail of snakes & their victims in Seijosa (L to R):
Hansatanu Roy, Daiolang Paslein, Sharat Kumar Hazarika]
Our project is very much an exploration into this multifaceted problem that causes around 1.5 lakh deaths globally, as it is a film that aims to illuminate this issue from the vantage point of the primary stakeholders. Our interactions with the teams involved in the rescue and management of Snakes as well with the affected communities, has led us to a number of critical insights and possible action plans, which we hope our project shall help contribute towards.
As we continue to work on the film, we acknowledge the relentless efforts of the Snake rescue staff at Tippi and Seijosa, the support of Forest Department, the efforts of locals and conservationists towards awareness activities, and most importantly, the beautiful people who have supported us on the field and off, easing our troubles and making the tedious process a lot easier.
With Gratitude, Hansatanu Roy & Daiolang Paslein, Greenhub.