Part Six: snake charmer turned informant

Chitwan city.

We met up with another Roots & Shoots volunteer, Alex. Years earlier, Alex was the first snake charmer Manoj ever confronted. They reminisced on camera how Alex had had a gang of thugs that were going to beat up Manoj and his friends when Manoj tried to confiscate his snakes. But Manoj was patient, listened, and honored Alex as an artist, a man making a living, respecting the animals in his own way. (Snake charmers typically remove the poison glands from cobras, so though they still have large fangs, there’s less poison, though still enough to kill. The average life span for a snake charmer’s cobra is 3 months.)

Alex still makes his living from street performances, now sans snakes. It starts with a scene where he acts like he’s going to turn a piece of rubber into a cobra. It ends with him saving the life of his assistant by using magic charms, which he then sells.

Because of his past, Alex knows many animal smugglers, and he informs Manoj on their whereabouts. Then Manoj and his crew of volunteers, sometimes accompanied by the police, or department of forestry come and confiscate the animals, and either release or rehabilitate them.

I filmed Alex talking on the phone with an owl smuggler in Katmandu, but it was impossible to arrange a bust so we’re 100% sure where they’ll be and what they have without blowing Alex’s cover. Throughout my trip Manoj gets calls from his network of other volunteers with tips on smuggling– snakes, leopards, monkeys, eagles, falcons… Katmandu is a worldwide hub for smuggled animals. Manoj has received numerous death threats. Now he sends other volunteers or police to bust them, to protect himself and his family.

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