50,000 people die and thousands more are maimed from snakebite in India yearly. This project aims to solve this huge problem in rural India.

Photo of Rom Whitaker
3 2

Written by

I confirm that I am fully aware of the eligibility criteria, and based on its description, I am eligible to apply to the CSV Prize 2017.

  • Yes, I'm eligible

Preferred language

  • English

Organization name

Madras Crocodile Bank/Centre for Herpetology

Year founded


Initiative stage

  • Growth (the pilot has already launched and is starting to expand)

Annual budget in 2017 (USD)

  • $10k - $50k

Number of beneficiaries impacted so far

  • 5,000 - 10,000

Organization type

  • Nonprofit, NGO, or citizen sector

Secondary Focus Area

  • Rural development

Headquarters location: Country

  • India

Headquarters location: City

Mamallapuram, Chennai

Location(s) of impact

India: Chennai, Tirunelveli, Coimbatore and adjacent rural villages


Facebook URL

Twitter URL


Problem: What problem is this initiative trying to address?

Conservation of snakes in India is essential as most of the larger species are rodent eaters which destroy as much as a third of our food grain production. However, snakes kill tens of thousands of people due to accidental snakebites. These can be prevented and our focus on exactly how this can be accomplished. The economic burden to farmers and rural laborers from snakebite in Sri Lanka is estimated to be over US$10,000,000. The burden and resultant impact in India, as yet unreported, is many magnitudes higher.

Solution Summary: What is the proposed solution? What do you see as its most promising aspects for creating shared value?

The first step toward solving India's snakebite problem was undertaken by me in 1982 when I established the Irula Tribal Snake-catchers Cooperative which now supplies all the snake venom needed for the production of several million vials of antivenom that save 10's of thousands of lives each year. Now the focus of the Madras Crocodile Bank's project 'Snake Conservation and Snakebite Mitigation' is on a) educating rural Indians about snakes, how to avoid them and the only treatment is antivenom through videos and school and community programmes b) making sure that rural Indians have access to antivenom c) training rural clinicians and paramedics in the latest snakebite treatment protocol d) working with antivenom manufacturers to improve and strengthen their product. Venom research to assess toxicity and effectiveness of Indian antivenoms in collaboration with Indian Institute of Science and Vellore Institute of Technology and AVRU, Melbourne is ongoing.

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Specify both the social and the environmental impact of your work

Close to half a million visitors to the Centre for Herpetology/Madras Crocodile Bank are exposed to the ongoing educational campaign on snakebite mitigation. Now, in its second year of operation, the Snake Conservation and Snakebite Mitigation Project has reached close to 10,000 rural people including school children, women's groups, and farmer communities. Research visits have been made to all the antivenom producing companies in India and venom samples have been collected for testing from 5 states. At Agumbe in Karnataka state where our awareness programme is now 10 years old, snakes are no longer killed and even king cobras are treated with respect but left alone. These templates are now being tailored for translation, dubbing, and application for the rest of India. "One Million Snakebite", the documentary film we made with BBC Natural World has been seen by millions of people in India and 80 other countries in the world (

Financial sustainability plan: How is this initiative financially supported? How will you ensure its financial sustainability long-term?

Our snakebite mitigation work started with earned income from the Madras Crocodile Bank, India's largest and most popular reptile park with 500,000 visitors each year. Recently corporate contributions have supported close to 80% of the costs of the programme. We are now in the process of applying for grants for specific aspects of the project, including production and dubbing of short educational videos. Earned income will always be a backup for the project but we are relying on existing and continuing partnerships with corporates, other NGOs including Snakebite Healing and Education Society (SHE), Indiansnakes, Save the Snakes, Friends of Snakes, Zero Bites Campaign, and educational institutions, both private and government to keep the project rolling.

Unique value proposition: What makes your initiative innovative? How does your project differ from other organizations working in the same field?

While snakebite mitigation is mentioned by other organizations there is little being done in India outside of our project work and partners. Our design and strategy is mostly self-generated and the key innovation is the creation of simple educational templates that can be freely accessed by NGOs, schools and education centers for widest possible coverage. This is an innovative initiative which has worked out solutions to a neglected problem facing Indian farmers and rural workers.

Founding story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that sparked the beginning of this initiative.

As a known 'snake man' I am often called to deal with 'problem' snakes. One evening, I was called to a nearby village hut where two children had been bitten by a snake while sleeping. It was a highly venomous krait which I caught and bagged. I had the only vehicle in the village where I lived so I took the kids to a local hospital but they had no antivenom so we had to drive another hour to the district hospital where they were given antivenom, just in time, and survived. Another time I interviewed 10 victims of Russell's viper bite all of whom said they were bitten at night, walking near home without a light. These experiences prompted me to do something and when I found out that 50,000 rural Indians were dying each year from snakebite I knew this enormous problem was what I had to focus on, especially since from the age of 5 I've been a prosyletizer of how great snakes are!

Where did you hear about the Nestlé Creating Shared Value Prize?

  • Ashoka page or contact
View more

Attachments (4)


This report describes the activities of the Agumbe Rainforest Research Station in rescuing king cobras and other snakes and spreading the word about snakebite avoidance and treatment.

Living with Snakes -poster.jpg

Poster to be translated and used in village education programmes, displayed in rural dispensaries, schools and all appropriate places


Short powerpoint presentation to be dubbed and used in school and community programmes

Rom Whitaker CV with pix, October, 2017.docx

This CV summarizes the applicants work on reptile conservation, research and public education in India and elsewhere over the past 50 years.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Pamela West

Very interesting! This is an idea that stands out from all the other entries in this competition. Apart from increasing the knowledge of how to treat snake bites, how is the anti-venom made more accessible for people in rural areas? Is it made more available in small rural clinics? What about the costs of the anti-venom, is it affordable for rural people?

Photo of Rom Whitaker

Thanks Pamela, you have put your finger on a couple of the major issues of the snakebite problem here in India. Antivenom is often not available at rural clinics (called Primary Health Centers), one of our projects is to map the distribution of the medically important snakes to prioritize equitable supply and distribution of antivenom to where it is most needed. And these PHCs most often have no doctor in regular attendance. Antivenom must be administered intravenously and since it is horse serum with a potential for acute allergic reaction and as Health is designated a "State Subject", a nurse or paramedic may not be permitted to give an IV injection.
We are therefore working with government bodies such as the Indian Council for Medical Research to make much-needed changes with advice from Dr. David Williams, head of the Global Snakebite Initiative. He has been working in Papua New Guinea for the past decade where a snakebite patient in a remote area may have access to a hospital and doctor only by an airlift, so nurses and other paramedics have to be instructed by phone.
Indian antivenom is the cheapest in the world, at about USD 15 per vial (compared to about USD 1000 in the USA). Unfortunately, the titer of Indian antivenoms is very low and as many as 50 to 100 vials may be needed to save a patient. So, the answer to your question is, no, antivenom is not affordable to rural people. In addition to this (solvable) problem, there is considerable geographic variation in venoms within the same species and since almost all the venom used for making antivenom is from the Irula Snake-catchers Cooperative here in southeast India, clinicians are routinely reporting a lack of effectiveness in the products. One of our projects is sampling venoms from across the country to research this very important part of the big picture. Rom

Photo of Rom Whitaker

Another aspect we are working on is based on the growing availability of ambulances reaching rural India. Once people realize that a venomous snakebite is a medical emergency, as much as a heart attack or grievous injury, they will opt for speedy ambulance service. We are encouraging ambulances to stock antivenom, train the attendants in snakebite first aid and management and have a respirator on board, a life-saving device for neurotoxic krait and cobra bites which commonly cause respiratory paralysis. Rom