Goa-based wedding planners and wildlife rescuers Benhail and Louise plan elaborate parties and relocate stranded reptiles, all in a day’s work

Catch wedding planners and wildlife rescuers Benhail Antao and Louise Remedios as they plan elaborate parties and relocate stranded reptiles, all in a day’s work

A school in Goa recently had an unexpected student: a feisty, 11-feet long crocodile. It strayed from the river during the rains and stationed itself outside a classroom window. The staff quickly called Goa’s Steve Irwin — Benhail Antao, and Louise Remedios, a couple that is wedding planners by profession and wildlife rescuers by passion. So, it is hardly a surprise that date nights for them involve carrying reptiles to safety rather than clinking flutes of Champagneunder star lit cabanas.

“It’s a crazy life we lead,” laughs Louise over a call from Goa. “On our anniversary we got a call to rescue a monitor lizard. It was injured. We took it to the vet, dressed the wound and made sure it healed,” she adds. The couple’s bizarre wildlife adventures are now captured in Snakes SOS: Goa’s Wildest, a 10-part series by National Geographic. The show also documents the reptile population, techniques used and the contributions made by Louise and Benhail. Together, they have so far rescued leopards, gaur, porcupine and bats among other creatures.

Benhail has been a wildlife enthusiast since he was a teenager. He noticed that many people harbour misconceptions about snakes and these lead to fear and as a result often killing of these reptiles. “We should all know how to respect animals,” he says, adding that when he started out, he would gently catch snakes and take them to the Forest Department. “There was no Internet back then or books to use as reference. My methods were primitive and all from what I had seen on television. I slowly learnt which snakes are found in India. Goa, he explains, has 25-30 species of snake and all the big four: Russell’s viper, saw scaled viper, krait and spectacled cobra.

“I have been rescuing snakes with the Forest Department for almost 11 years,” he adds. An expert now, Benhail hosts workshops educating people about reptiles. It is during one such awareness programme that Louise met him. “Our mutual love for wildlife brought us together,” she says adding that, “Eventually I started seeing them in a different light: not as predators but as living beings trying to go on with their day.”

And just like their wedding clients who come from all over the world, they also get requests from people all over the country to help rescue snakes. The couple guides clueless people in different cities, over long video calls on how to deal with a situation when they find an unexpected “guest” in their house.

Imagine finding a family of 12 bronze-back tree snakes in the AC unit or cobras under the bed. “When someone spots a snake in the house, we ask them not to kill it but give us a call, and in the meantime keep a safe distance. People’s mentality has changed,” says Benhail. Now, people even ask Benhail and Louise to take them along on snake rescue calls. “We want to be called educators, not just snake rescuers. This part of the education is now being captured by NatGeo and is being shared through the series.”

Snakes SOS: Goa’s Wildest will premiere on National Geographic Channel in India at 8pm on January 10. The episodes will be aired every Monday and Tuesday and will be available in Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Bengali and Kannada.

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