The Growing Snakebite Crisis in South Asia

In the sweltering heat of South Asia, where the lands weave through a tapestry of dense forests and bustling human settlements, an age-old nemesis slithers silently—the venomous snake.

The rising frequency of snakebites in this region is not just a startling statistic but a pressing concern that beckons for immediate and effective responses.

The Stark Reality of Rising Snakebite Incidences

Every year, over 5.4 million people worldwide fall victim to snakebites. Half of these cases involving venomous species.

South Asia, a biodiversity hotspot for venomous snakes, accounts for nearly 70% of these fatal encounters. India alone sees approximately 58,000 deaths annually from about one million cases of snakebite envenoming. This distressing figure is projected to climb, influenced heavily by the specter of climate change.

The 2018 study from the University of Kelaniya in Sri Lanka underscores a grim forecast: the number of snakebites may surge by over 30% in the next 25 to 50 years due to changing climatic conditions. As temperatures rise and habitats alter, snakes are pushed into closer proximity with humans, escalating the odds of venomous interactions.

The Common Krait - Snakebites Are Rising In South Asia - Why?
The Common Krait | Shutterstock

Voices from the Ground: The Human Cost

The narrative of Kabiraj Kharel, a farmer from Nepal, brings a harrowing personal dimension to the statistics. Bitten by a krait while farming, Kharel’s account of the ordeal highlights the acute dangers and the terrifying immediacy of venomous snakebites.

Recounting his terrifying encounter Kharel said, “I thought I was going to die.” His narrative of the frantic rush to a hospital, over 25 kilometers away, after the snakebite, highlights the acute challenges in accessing timely medical aid in rural areas.

Dr. Sadanand Raut, a medical expert and snakebite prevention advocate from India, emphasizes the urgency of timely medical intervention. The effectiveness of antivenom, a life-saving treatment derived from the very poison that threatens lives, can mean the difference between life and death.

However, the availability of this antidote is hindered by high costs, lack of refrigeration facilities, and inadequate production capabilities, particularly in rural areas where snakebites are most prevalent.


The Bigger Picture: Ecological and Economic Implications

Beyond the immediate threat to human life, the rise in snakebites poses broader ecological and economic challenges. Snakes play a pivotal role in the ecosystem, primarily through their control of rodent populations, which are known to destroy significant portions of agricultural yields. The decline in snake populations, therefore, can lead to uncontrolled rodent growth, impacting food security and livelihoods.

Conservation biologist Michael Starkey points out that climate change and human encroachment on natural habitats not only displace snake populations but also disrupt the delicate balance of local ecosystems. The construction of urban infrastructure, for example, encroaches on the natural habitats of snakes, increasing the likelihood of encounters.

“Rising temperatures…are known to make habitats for some species of snake unsuitable for them,” he explains, illustrating how environmental changes force snakes into closer contact with humans.

King Cobra - Snakebites Are Rising In South Asia - Why?
King Cobra | Shutterstock

Forging Paths to Coexistence

The path forward requires a multi-faceted approach. Awareness and education about snakebite prevention and treatment need to be ramped up, especially in rural and tribal areas. Infrastructure improvements, such as the local production and distribution of antivenom, along with better healthcare facilities, could significantly reduce mortality rates.

Rmaah Memon, a physician with insights into the challenges of antivenom distribution, argues for better accessibility and production of antivenom. “Antivenom is very expensive so making it more affordable would also be a step in the right direction,” she notes, addressing one of the many facets of the comprehensive response required.

Moreover, a shift in perspective is essential. Snakes, often vilified and feared, are crucial for the ecological balance. Educating communities about the ecological benefits of snakes and promoting coexistence can help mitigate conflicts.


The snakebite crisis in South Asia is a complex interplay of environmental changes, human activity, and socio-economic factors. As the region grapples with this escalating challenge, the global community must lend its support to local efforts.

Only through sustained and cooperative endeavors can we hope to address this public health issue, ensuring safer futures for both human and snake populations alike.

What are the most venomous snakes in South Asia?

South Asia, known for its rich biodiversity, is home to some of the world’s most venomous snakes.

These snakes pose significant risks due to their potent venom, which can cause severe medical emergencies.

Here are the ten most venomous snakes in this region:

  1. Indian Cobra (Naja naja) – Also known simply as the cobra, this snake is feared for its ability to deliver a neurotoxic venom that can cause paralysis and respiratory failure.
  2. Common Krait (Bungarus caeruleus) – The krait’s venom is highly toxic, primarily neurotoxic, and even small amounts can cause severe muscle paralysis.
  3. Russell’s Viper (Daboia russelii) – Known for causing the most snakebite fatalities in India, its venom can lead to severe bleeding disorders, kidney failure, and pain.
  4. Saw-Scaled Viper (Echis carinatus) – This viper’s venom is particularly haemotoxic, leading to extensive bleeding and tissue damage.
  5. King Cobra (Ophiophagus hannah) – The largest venomous snake, the king cobra’s neurotoxic venom can kill a human within hours if untreated.
  6. Hump-Nosed Pit Viper (Hypnale hypnale) – Although smaller, this viper’s venom can cause severe swelling and bleeding, and its bites are often underestimated.
  7. Indian Krait (Bungarus fasciatus) – Another krait species, known for its highly potent venom which is primarily neurotoxic.
  8. Green Pit Viper (Trimeresurus spp.) – These vipers, found across various habitats, deliver a venom that can cause prolonged bleeding and necrosis.
  9. Banded Krait (Bungarus fasciatus) – Easily recognized by its distinctive yellow and black bands, its venom is highly neurotoxic.
  10. Bamboo Pit Viper (Trimeresurus gramineus) – While less aggressive, the venom of this snake can cause significant haemotoxic effects.

These snakes, while dangerous, are critical to their ecosystems and often only pose a threat when provoked or accidentally encountered. Effective medical treatment and education about these snakes can help mitigate the risks associated with their bites.