conservation biologist • environmental journalist • author
Centre for Environment Education
From charmers to educators:
Using indigenous knowledge for
conservation education

This is a landmark study, which was conducted using baseline
data, surveying 500 snake charmers across villages of Haryana ,
Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan , covering all aspects of this ancient
community, from their socio-economic status, to ethnobotanical
knowledge to the health condition of snakes kept by them in
captivity. Two external experts Rachel Kaletta from the UK and
Vikram Hoshing from Pune Snake Park also contributed to the
study. For the study we documented over 100 plant species used
in traditional medicines by the charmers, we looked at the snake
species used by them for their livelihoods and collected information
on levels of income and education.

In this paper, using the snake charmers as a case study we
showcased the tension between conservation on the one hand
and livelihoods on the other. The author presents a model that
involves the use of snake charmers for educating people about
venomous and non-venomous snakes, it is also based on ten
years of extensive field work with the community. The research
has shown that this community, which is characterized by high
levels of indigenous knowledge about wild animals and low levels
of formal education, has low chances of being absorbed in other
occupations where there is heavy competition. The employment
of snake charmers as ‘barefoot conservation educators’ ( a
recommendation made by several renowned herpetologists like
Romulus Whitaker) and recognition of their indigenous knowledge
would not only protect their culture and identity but also assist in
the protection of thousands of snakes killed by ignorant people.
This would be of further importance given that in rural India wildlife
films or conservation education programmes are out of the reach
of the masses. The reach of the snake charmers is tremendous and
street conservation education can play a vital role in sensitizing
people to reptiles, which are considered ugly or dangerous. Such
an intervention would also help resolve the tension between
conservation and livelihoods.

From charmers to educators: Using indigenous
knowledge for conservation education


Conservation Biologist
Environment Journalist