Like a mother they build king cobra's nest

Last Updated : 06 August 2017, 12:11 IST

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The female king cobra had selected a perfect spot in the cashew plantation of Mathew Velikakath in Kottiyoor of Kannur district, Kerala, for laying eggs. The 45 degree slide at the bottom of a huge tree seemed tailor-made for the world’s longest venomous and only nest building snake to lay its eggs and protect it from any natural calamity, mainly monsoon.

However, the only thing the mother king cobra did not take into consideration was human’s fear, which resulted in setting the half built nest on fire. Time was short for this female king cobra, which had to lay its eggs in next few days and started to build another nest just 15 feet away from the charred one.

This, for herpetologists and snake enthusiasts, was strange behaviour of the snake as in spite of knowing the human danger, it re-knit its nest and laid eggs.

In a State where snakes, irrespective of whether they are venomous or not, are killed mercilessly, the efforts of Nature-Wildlife Interpreter & conservationist Vijay Neelakantan, Forest Department Rapid Response Force Team member Chandran MP and Kālinga Centre for Rainforest Ecology and Kalinga Foundation, Agumbe, Director Gowri Shankar was nothing short of a miracle as they not only helped in hatching eggs of one of the most endangered species (king cobras are protected under the scheduled II of Indian Wildlife Protection Act of 1972), but also in creating awareness among the people about the importance of these snakes in maintaining the ecology.

It was on May 1 that Chandran received a distress call from the villagers of Kottiyoor requesting ‘removing’ of a king cobra from one of their cashew plantation. By the time, Chandran and Vijay could reach the nest site, fear-struck residents had set fire to almost 75cms tall king cobra nest. While, they were looking for the snake, they were shocked to see the snake building another nest nearby. While the new nest was not complete, the female king cobra had already laid its eggs in them. Usually the female king cobras coil their body to create a 60-90 cms tall nest, the one at the plantation was just 30 centimetres tall.

Gowri Shankar, who has ‘mid-wifed’ more than 500 king cobra hatchlings in the wilderness of Agumbe Rainforest and monitored more than 30 king cobra nests across India, was contacted for inputs. Based on his suggestions, they started layering more leaves at the nest site. Sensor based cameras were installed around the nest to make sure that the nest was protected.

“May be this is for the first time in history that humans had ‘built’ a nest for king cobras and helped in hatching of eggs,” said Gowri Shankar and added that it is a wonder as to how this limbless creature builds a nest that makes sure that not a single drop of water enters the core area of the nest, where eggs are getting incubated. Even in heavy monsoon, the temperature of the nest is maintained between 24 and 28 degree Celsius. 

It took approximately 85 to 105 days for the king cobra eggs to hatch, and from almost 72 days, the trio took turns in monitoring the nest, and most of the time in night too. And on August 1, one after the other, the hatchlings started emerging out from the eggs. A protection wall with plastic sheet was built around the nest to make sure that the baby king cobras did not venture into the plantation, and also to make sure that no human disturbed the nest. Later, all the hatchlings were released into the nearby forest.

“It is once in lifetime experience to see baby king cobras emerge out of eggs,” said Vijay and added that the satisfaction we got after seeing them being released into the wild is immeasurable, given the condition in which we found the nest, with the mother king cobra deserting the nest fearing human interference.
King cobras are one the most vastly misunderstood snakes. Though they are the longest venomous snake, there has been very few reports of human deaths caused due to its bite. “These shy snakes, try their best to avoid human confrontation,” said Gowri Shankar. 

It was not that an easy task to convince the people, as they feared for their lives. The prospect that in few days, there would 15-30 baby king cobras, which are venomous enough to kill an adult, had provoked the villagers to think of destroying the nest. After looking at the efforts of the trio, the villagers now say that their fear for this long snake has completely destroyed.

Published 04 August 2017, 12:49 IST

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