Panic causes people to do some very strange things. You always hear about the fight or flight response during episodes of high stress. The residents of one district in India, however, have created their own response: the bite or flight.
Ranthu Oraon, a 50-year-old resident of the village of Bariyatu, which is located in the eastern state of Jharkhand, exemplifies this bizarre response. Last week, he awoke to people shouting. As he got up and went toward the commotion, he learned that a poisonous snake, a Common Krait, had sought shelter in a neighbor’s house. Thinking nothing of his own safety, Oraon rushed into the house. After twenty minutes, he emerged from the home with the reptile in his hands. In front of everyone, he began biting the snake until it was dead. Leaving the snake’s corpse on the ground, he proceeded to go back to bed as his neighbors applauded his bravery.
Half a day later, those same villagers were forced to deal with the harsh reality that Oraon was dying. Ranthu was working his job at a local store when he collapsed. People ran to his aid, but found his breathing labored. They rushed him to Carmel Asha Kendra hospital to receive medical care. Unfortunately, doctors were unable to save the man. According to local accounts, while tangling with the Common Krait the night before, Oraon had been bitten. However, he failed to realize this, as the snake’s bite is painless, does not swell, and itches less than a mosquito bite. This helps explain why the Krait is responsible for most snakebite deaths in India.
Village elders speaking to reporters after Ranthu’s death helped shed light on the situation. It is common among the villagers in the state of Jharkhand to kill snakes by biting them to death. They believe that this process provides a future immunity to the snake’s venom. The recent death of nine villagers who engaged in this practice, however, has the elders rethinking their support of this ancient practice. A new solution is certainly needed, as the snake situation has gotten so bad in the area around Bariyatu that hospitals can’t keep up with the demand for antivenin serum to treat the bites of India’s deadly ‘Big Four’ snakes. Over 41,000 people die annually in India from snakebites.