More king cobras slither into human habitations in Coimbatore

Coimbatore Forest Division is witnessing an increase in the sighting of king cobras (Ophiophagus hannah), the longest of all venomous snakes, in human habitations. Four king cobras were rescued from human habitations in Coimbatore district in the last eight months which were later released in natural habitats. Experts cite varied reasons, including fragmentation and increased human activity in their habitats, behind the straying of the elusive snake species.Latest in the list of king cobras found in human neighbourhood was a 13-foot-long female snake that was rescued by snake handler K. Santhosh Kumar from a place on Narasipuram – Poondi Road near Coimbatore on June 14. “A 16-foot-long male king cobra rescued from a farm at Narasipuram in November last year was the biggest one I ever handled. A female snake of about 14 feet was rescued from Narasipuram area in April this year,” says Mr. Kumar.The king of snakes is protected under Schedule II of the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972 and its rescue, handling and release are done only with the consent of the Forest Department, he adds. Snake handlers A. Ameen and R. Sanjay rescued another King Cobra from Chinnampathy, near Walayar, in November 2019. According to Mr. Ameen, a few other King Cobras were also rescued from places near Walayar coming under Madukkarai forest range in the past. Another snake handler Ranjith had also rescued a few ones that slithered into human habitations. All these sightings were reported within the limits of Madukkarai, Pooluvapatti and Mettupalayam forest ranges of Coimbatore Forest Division that have places ideal for the habitat of king cobras, scientific name of which derives from its eating habit (Ophio – snake and phagus – eating). “More human activity in forests and peripheries is the reason for interactions between humans and animals. Same is the case with king cobras,” says king cobra expert and herpetologist P. Gowri Shankar of Kālinga Centre for Rainforest Ecology, Agumbe. According to P. Kannan, assistant professor of wildlife biology at Government Arts College, Udhagamandalam, lack of prey base in forests could also be a reason for the straying of king cobras to human habitations.“King cobra’s favourite prey is rat snake. Rat snakes are now-a-days seen mostly in human habitations as they feed on rats which thrive when waste disposal practices are improper,” Mr. Kannan says. “King cobra is called the tiger of reptile kingdom as it is the top-most predator among snakes. It is a flagship species which indicates the health of the herpetofauna around it. More focus is needed on the protection of the habitat. In Karnataka, king cobras are revered and protected unlike in other parts of the country,” says Mr. Gowri. In August 2018, a king cobra that was found in a hotel on Kallar – Mettupalayam Road was killed by people before rescuers could reach the spot.“We have rescued at least seven kinga cobras in the Kallar region. Apart from farms at Kallar, they are often seen on the track of Nilgiri Mountain Railway and on ghat road to Udhagamandalam,” says Jeonald Wilson, a volunteer of Wildlife and Nature Conservation Trust, which assists the Forest Department in the rescue of animals, snakes and birds.

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