After two years of interdiction because of Covid-19 pandemic, in Cocullo, a small Apennines village of 220 people, dozens of snake catchers – men and women of all ages – went in search of non-poisonous snakes, captured them and kept them at home until May 1st, the day of the celebration of Saint Dominic the Abbot, during which the statue of the Saint is carried in a procession covered with snakes. It is a huge collective ritual, steeped in devotion and symbolism, in which thousands of people try to overcome their fear of snakes.
Since 2007, two scientists have been developing a project of snakes monitoring in the area of Cocullo, with the aim of increasing the knowledge on the various species, also improving citizens’ awareness and the ecosystems’ preservation. The monitoring project allows snakes catchers to legally capture and keep snakes at home until the procession (thanks to a ministerial exemption). It is to all intents and purposes a citizen science project, enriched by the spectacular nature of the religious ceremony, by its mystical dimension and by the fact that snakes are both fascinating and unloved by humans.
Unlike the rest of Italy, in Cocullo the average knowledge of snakes species and characteristics is very high.