Prashant Mahajan, senior Education Officer, BNHS, Mumbai
King Cobra is a largest venomous and the most intelligent of all snakes. Growing to 5 meter in India (6 meter in Thailand) and living in dense evergreen forests of the Western
Ghats, Orissa, Bihar, Bengal and the Andaman, and the northern hill forests. King Cobras are fascinating animals that remain largely unstudied. The name is misleading; King Cobras are a different genus from the cobras. A better name for them is hamadryad.
Although King Cobra venom is not rated very toxic, this is balanced by the quantity. An adult snake can yield up to 7 cc\rquotes of venom- enough to kill a full-grown elephant or sufficient to kill 150 people!
King cobras exclusively feed on other snakes. The favourite among the snakes are rat snake, common cobra and water snakes, which are envenomed and paralyzed before they
are swallowed. The only enemy of King Cobras is man, who generally shoots when he meets them in the forest or in tea and coffee plantations. When threatened King Cobra puts up a splendid defense by raising the hood (which is longer than the common cobra's
and has an 'inverted' marking), growling and charging on the intruders with open mouth if caught or injured. It is the only snake that makes a nest for laying eggs. The female scrapes leaves and humus together with her tail and body and constructs a conical
nest about 30 cm high. Having laid eggs at the bottom of her nest, she guards them for about 2 months after which they hatch. During this period, she usually does not feed: it's only when hatching time nears that the female, thin and emaciated hunts again.
The hatch-lings disperse soon after they hatch, climbing up bamboo stands and looking for young snakes and probably skunks for food.
King cobras are threatened by human encroachment. Large tracts of their pristine forest habitat are being cleared and destroyed. Although they are becoming increasingly
rare, they are killed whenever possible. In Hong Kong, Cobras are eaten, and in Thailand used for venom extraction in order to produce anti-venom serum for their bite.