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From hunter to guardian: How the ‘Snakeman of India’ found his way into wildlife conservation

Editor’s Note: Call to Earth is a CNN editorial series committed to reporting on the environmental challenges facing our planet, together with the solutions. Rolex’s Perpetual Planet initiative has partnered with CNN to drive awareness and education around key sustainability issues and to inspire positive action.


Moving from America to India as a child in the 1950swould likely be a challenging experience for most, but for Romulus Whitaker it was a dream come true — he had arrived in “the land of cobras,” he explained to CNN.

Whitaker would go on to earn the nickname“Snakeman of India,” and spend more than six decades dedicated to reptile research and conservation. He’s written several books on snakes, spearheaded a lifesaving anti-venom program, and launched wildlife research stations throughout the country.

His field work with snakes and crocodiles ultimately led his conservation efforts to help save India’s rainforests.

Today, Whitaker’s focus is oneducating Indians on how to protect themselves from snakes — part of a national campaign to reduce the snakebite mortality rate.

CNN spoke with Whitaker recently at his home in Mysore, southwesternIndia, around the release of the first volume of his memoir: “Snakes, Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll: My Early Years.”

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

CNN: How did you first become interested in snakes?

A young Romulus Whitaker holds up a milk snake circa 1947 in Hoosick, New York.

Whitaker: I started out as a very young lad in northern New York state, turning over rocks and finding bugs and stuff, until I found a snake, and it was love at first sight.

It really started then. But I must blame or thank my mother for when I first brought a