Ophidiophobia, a fear of snakes, is one of the most common phobias in the world. While most snakes are not an immediate threat to one’s health and safety, there are over 700 species of venomous snakes in existence – and some can kill an adult in just minutes.
This is the story of one man who aimed to prove there’s no danger when it comes to venomous snakes. How did he do it, you ask? By spending 72 hours locked in a cage with not one, not two, but 72 of them!
Neelim Kumar Khaire, the snake whisperer
In 1986, 28-year-old Neelim Kumar Khaire was a receptionist at a five-star hotel in Pune, India. Prior to this, he was a holiday home manager on Matheran, near Bombay, where one of his duties was to deal with the variety of snakes that slithered onto the property.
“Reptiles were frequent visitors at my place in Matheran,” Khaire told India Today. “I hated killing such beautiful creatures – most of them were harmless. So I started catching and releasing them in the Sahyadri hills.
“I once caught a snake and took it to the Haffkin Institute in Bombay. I was told that it was poisonous and too risky to be carried in this way. The incident boosted my courage and so began my obsession with snakes.”
According to Khaire, he’d caught and relocated over 25,000 snakes, and had received 6,000 bites. It wasn’t until he heard about Peter Snyemaris, a South African man who’d locked himself in a cage with 18 venomous and six semi-venomous snakes for 50 hours, that he got the idea to show the world how harmless snakes are.
“I thought an Indian deserved to create a world record in this field as India is known abroad as a country of snakes,” said Khaire.
In 1982, Neelim Kumar Khaire made a Guinness world record for staying 72 hours in a glass box with 72 venomous snakes: 27 monocellate cobras, 24 russell's vipers, 9 binocellate cobras, 8 banded kraits, and four common snakes.#Tiredearth #Animals pic.twitter.com/UX1Xh9Ew8V
— Green Planet (@Elizabeth_Ruler) January 2, 2021
He set up a large glass enclosure on the B.J. Medical College sports ground, in Pune, and filled it with 72 venomous snakes. These included 27 monocled cobras, 24 Russell’s vipers, nine Indian cobras, eight banded kraits and four common snakes.
In all, 68 of those locked in the enclosure with Khaire could kill him with just one bite’s worth of venom. Of particular concern was the monocled viper, considered the most fatal snake in Thailand.
To make his stay as comfortable as possible, Khaire set up a chair and desk. He also brought along a snake hook to help move any of his scaly friends along.
Khaire spent the next 72 hours with 72 venomous snakes, breaking the Guinness World Record previously held by Snyemaris. Even though he was allowed to leave the enclosure for half an hour each day, he refused and left the experiment without suffering a single bite.
Thanks to his bravery, Khaire was able to establish a research center and snake sanctuary. He later went on to found the Indian Herpetological Society, and even had a new species of snake named after him, the Melanophidium khairei – Khaire’s black shieldtail!