Woman Who Used Cobra As Threatening Weapon Being Hunted by Police

A woman who used a cobra to scare people into giving her money is being pursued by police in India.

The Times of India reported that the woman visited houses in Tambaram, a suburb of Chennai in Tamil Nadu province, with the venomous snake. She then asked for money from residents. If they did not pay up, she began playing an instrument that enticed the cobra out of its container.

Police in Chennai are now hunting the woman who locals believed to be a snake charmer for her confidence when handling the deadly snake.

Snake charming has been practiced in India for centuries. Practitioners use instruments called pungi to "hypnotize" snakes into moving in certain ways. The trade has been diminished by government policies in recent decades. Catching, killing and possessing snakes was outlawed in India in 1972 under the Wildlife Protection Act. Snake charming itself was officially banned as a practice in the country in 1991, putting an estimated 800,000 snake charmers out of work.

However, snake charmers have continued to practice their trade despite the risks of large fines or even jail time. Snake charmers also pushed back against laws prohibiting their livelihood and have staged protests against current policies.

One resident who saw the woman told the Indo-Asian News Service (IANS): "One morning, the woman came asking for money. At houses, when the people refused to give her money, she opened a basket and played an instrument at which a cobra slithered out. The horrified residents gave her money and clothes and sent her away. Someone filmed the incident which went viral and was noticed by police."

The Times of India said that officers with the Tamil Nadu Forestry Department have joined police in the search for the woman involved.

India is home to several species of deadly snakes including the king cobra, Indian cobra and spectacled cobra. Venomous snakes are responsible for tens of thousands of deaths in India every year—it is estimated that 1.2 million people died from snake bites between 2000 and 2019, at an average rate of 58,000 people a year.

The World Health Organization estimates between 81,000 to 138,000 people die each year from snake bites—a figure it aims to halve by 2030.

In India, research shows the Russell's viper is the species responsible for most fatal snake bites, followed by kraits and cobras.

Stock image of a cobra
Stock image of a cobra. Over one million people in India died from snake bites between 2000 and 2019 according to a 2020 study. Bahadur Ali/Getty Images