Survival of the ‘king’ is in question

Forest watcher Sanal Raj with a king cobra caught from Kallar.  

Last week, a family travelling from Ponmudi to the Kallar valley near here had to seek the help of the Forest Department to capture a king cobra that had clambered aboard its car. The reptile, measuring almost 19 feet, was prised out of the engine bay of the vehicle and later released into the forest.

Over the last 10 years, king cobra has been sighted at various locations across Kerala, pointing to the possible threat faced by the snake from deforestation and habitat loss. Researchers have called for scientific translocation of snakes straying into human habitations. They feel that releasing them into the wild without proper studies could affect their survival.

Potent poison

The world's longest venomous snake, king cobra ( Ophiophagus hannah ) is found mostly in forested areas and on tea estates. It is capable of delivering up to 600 mg of venom in a single bite, enough to kill 20 to 40 grown men or even an adult elephant. The only snake that builds a nest to lay eggs, king cobra ( Ophiophagus hannah ) is classified as vulnerable by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. It is placed under Schedule 2 of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. “King cobras have territorial instincts, with extraordinary memory of burrows in their home range, crucial for regulating body temperature and avoiding predators,” says R. Dileepkumar, researcher at the Centre for Venom Informatics under the University of Kerala. “Translocated snakes find it difficult to find safe places, leading to behavioural disturbances. This may affect their survival and reproductive success.”

A study conducted by the Agumbe Rainforest Research Station, Karnataka, showed that translocated king cobras travel long distances and fight for territorial domination. “Snake catchers called in to capture king cobra exhibit the snake before the public. Too much handling can cause stress and spinal breakage or injuries,” observes Dr. Dileepkumar.

Forest officials maintain that captured king cobras are relocated to areas conducive for their survival, from where there is little chance of straying into human habitation again. But Dr. Dileepkumar stresses the need for detailed documentation of captured king cobras and a radio telemetry study of translocated snakes. “A better understanding of the snake’s habitat and behaviour in the wild is crucial to its survival.”

Oommen V. Oommen, Chairman, Kerala State Biodiversity Board, said the board would join hands with the Forest Department to formulate a scientific translocation strategy for captured king cobras.

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Printable version | Sep 23, 2021 1:54:23 AM |

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