Renowned herpetologist Romulus Whitaker on the King Cobra

Popularly known as the ‘Snake man of India’ renowned herpetologist Romulus Whitaker founded the Agumbe Rainforest Research Station after winning the Whitley Award (known as the Green Oscar) in 2005. He also founded the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust and the Madras Snake Park.

He helped rehabilitate the Irula tribe, who used to catch snakes but were left jobless after the national ban on snake trading. He trained them in extraction of snake venom and made them help in developing snake antivenom drugs. Recently, in a webinar conducted by Conservation India, he spoke about Agumbe and its king cobras.

Romulus Whitaker

– Typical King Cobra habitat (Agumbe is the best example) has lush, thick vegetation with clear streams and dense fog. It is a biodiversity hotspot and many new species being discovered and described here.
– Russell’s Vipers, Cane turtles, dracos, Roux’s Forest Lizards, Malabar pit vipers are some of the reptiles found here. The rainforest usually receives 7000-8000 mm rainfall a year.
– There are about 500 species of birds, 225 reptiles, 135 mammals, around 180 amphibians, and approximately 335 species of butterflies in Agumbe.
– The Agumbe rainforest research station gets King Cobra calls from villages almost every day. They come in search of smaller snakes which come to eat mice. The villagers are used to the rescue and always keep calm.
– In the North-east, however they are killed and displayed as they are considered ill-omens.
– Some rescuers foolishly display and hold the snake by the neck. If grabbed by the neck, the cobra might get killed. Usually, snakes do not attack even if mishandled. It attacks the rescuer after giving several warnings.
– Education and Awareness is a priority and rescue is a good time for it. Pamphlets in regional languages are very effective. Educating locals often gives the research station many nest reports.
– The nest usually contains 12-40 eggs and covers them with plant material. Then she herself leaves in the Western Ghats. However, in the north-east, the female stays on top off the nest all throughout incubation.

King Cobra
King Cobra at Cincinnati Zoo
A video of the King cobra killing and feeding on another snake by the Smithsonian Channel
Snake rescue the ethical way
Snake Charming in India

– The leathery, long eggs, are about 22-32 degrees. They hatch within 10-113 days.The hatchlings escape quickly or they might eat or get eaten by their own siblings.
– Male combat occurs for dominance, mating rights. They are not fatal. The snake that escapes first is the loser. It goes on for 45 minutes or more.
– For research, snakes need to be tracked. The process of tagging snakes at the Agumbe Rainforest Research station is the following: The snake is first bagged. It is then anesthetized using an airtight container. Next, a transmitter, number chip, and 2 I-buttons are attached under its scales so that it does not fall out. Finally, to make it recover, it will need to be intubated. For this, a straw is put inside its mouth and blown through. After this, the snake can be released near its capture site again.
– All snakes locations are marked on Google Earth
– Most snakes spend summer months in the fields, and monsoons in the forest. King Cobras have olfactory or visual map of their home range and this is why translocation is not good for them.
– Courtship is usually gentle and persistent. Sometimes females thinks that males are approaching them for courtship, but in reality, the male eats the female. Cannibalism is common in many snake species.
– Indian Cobras are one of the favourite preys of the king cobra. Once it has started following a snake, it does not give up. Rat snakes are also common part of their diet. Whitaker’s boas and monitor lizards are fillers as they are too small for the snake.
– But they eat rats too if they are fooled. This is usually very useful for captive king cobras.

Image Credits
Featured Image: By Marathekedar93 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=49787810
Romulus Whitaker: By Dr. Raju Kasambe – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24143391
King Cobra: By Vaikoovery – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18674797
King Cobra at Cincinnati Zoo: By Ltshears – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6675478
By The batdoctor – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=50515567
By Sdiwakar at English Wikipedia – “I took this image during my trip overseas to India.” Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by Calliopejen1 using CommonsHelper., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16311902

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