Worshipped idols of snake deities surrounding the base of a tree in Srirangapatna, Karnataka, India. Photo credit: Félix Landry Yuan.

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A reverence for nature has acted as the foundation for many of the world’s ancient and contemporary cultures. This often manifests as a patch of natural landscape that is continuously protected due to its sanctity as perceived by the local community. In India, such forests are usually referred to as sacred groves in English, and are especially common across the Southwestern portion of the country. Also exceptional for this region, although not unique to it, is the prevalence of snake deity worshipping within these sacred groves. With snakes being an important concern for many rural communities in Southern India, we surveyed regular visitors to sacred groves to find out how they react to seeing snakes, and whether, devotional beliefs, or lack thereof, have anything to do with responses to snakes. Interestingly, within the confines of a sacred grove, nearly none of the participants would harm or kill a snake, whereas a fair portion of them would harm or kill a snake if a snake were to be found outside of the sacred grove, such as near their homes or in plantations. Accordingly, we also found that out of those who are peaceful towards snakes outside of sacred groves, devotion towards snake deities was more common than for those who harm or kill snakes in such circumstances. Although many of these sacred groves may not be representative examples of pristine forest, we conclude that as long as these are valued as sacred sites by visitors, the presence of sacred groves can help to uphold the conservation of local snake species that may otherwise be threatened. From this we emphasize the value of a bottom-up, cultural respect for nature as a complement or alternative to top-down approaches (such as in the case of government-implemented protected areas) in modern conservation strategies.