Image: Snake charmers in India
Bikas Das  /  AP
Snake charmers play flutes at a rally in Calcutta, India, on Tuesday.
updated 2/18/2009 10:37:31 AM ET 2009-02-18T15:37:31

Nearly 1,000 snake charmers held a protest in eastern India Tuesday, playing their flutes as they marched through the streets demanding the right to perform with live snakes.

Shows featuring cobras and other live snakes have been banned in India since 1991 though they are still a common sight, especially in tourist areas and in small villages.

There are about 800,000 snake charmers still in India, according to the Snake Charmers Federation of India.

The technique — playing a flute to charm the animal out of a basket — is often handed down from father to son and charmers say their traditional way of life is threatened by the Wildlife Protection Act passed eight years ago.

Raktim Das, general secretary of the charmers federation, told reporters on the sidelines of the protest in Calcutta that the government should make the traditional performances legal again.

Cruel?
And it should set up serum farms where charmers could use their expertise in handling snakes to extract venom for medical use, he added.

Animal rights activists say that snake charming is a cruel practice because the animals sometimes have their mouths sewn shut, fangs removed or venom glands pierced to protect their handlers.

Snakes are deaf and their "dancing" movement is a self-defense response to vibrations they perceive as threatening.

Shakti Banerjee, director of the Wildlife Protection Society of India, said the ban should be upheld because it has been effective in curbing abuse of snakes.

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Video: Snake charmers protest

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