Wild Encounters

Wild Encounters: King Cobra

Riverbanks Zoo - Micah: We’re back with another edition of Wild Encounters.  I’m here with Scott who’s the guy to go to for anything herpetology, reptiles, and of course, snakes.  We’re in a room where some people would think it’s really cool but for other people, it’d be a nightmare because we are surrounded by venomous king cobras in this room.  Some of them have some really cool stories.  First, tell us a little bit about king cobras.

Scott:  King cobras are the largest venomous snake in the world.  They can be up to 19 feet long.  They just feed on other snakes but they’re suffering from two things in the wild.  One is habitat destruction.  They like big forests, big large areas of undeveloped land.  The second thing is they’re used for the medicinal medicine trade in China.  So king cobras are being collected from the wild, sent to China illegally and used in traditional medicine.

Micah:  And speaking of illegal, the cobra behind us, a little, small baby cobra, has a really cool backstory.

Scott: Right.  Two animals were smuggled into the United States.  They came in cereal boxes and they didn’t label it as a wildlife import.  It was discovered that snakes were in these boxes so they called US Fish and Wildlife Services who found the two baby king cobras being smuggled out of Hong Kong to the United States and they give those animals to zoos.  We hold them as evidence.  We get the animals if they want us to have them so that’s where these two king cobras came from.  They’re juveniles.  We’re going to raise them up into adults and probably send them to another zoo. 

Micah:  They’re not exactly the prize you’re hoping for at the bottom of your Cheerio box.  

Scott:  No.  It’s one you want to be careful with.  

Micah:  And a very venomous animals.  Tell us about that kind of danger.

Scott:  Well, they are venomous.  Cobras have a neurotoxic venom which they use to kill other snakes, which is what king cobras eat, other snakes.  But it’s also very toxic to humans.  Fortunately, king cobras in the wild aren’t very aggressive.  You can even walk up to a wild king cobra and pick it up.  They’re often village pets where they’re found because they’re recognized as being a particularly aggressive species.  But in captivity, young ones like this react very often with a hood.  They’re afraid of us.  They think we’re going to hurt them.  These animals behind us, like this one which was born at Riverbanks Zoo, knows the keepers and they’re more curious about what we’re doing.  But in general, we find king cobras here at Riverbanks to be not very aggressive animals.  

Micah:  And you told me, pretty intelligent for a snake.

Scott:  Well, they are.  They’re curious.  Snakes don’t have the kind of intelligence that mammals do but anytime an animal is curious, comes over to see what we’re doing, wants to interact with us, we take that as a sign of intelligence.  So for snakes, king cobras are pretty smart.

Micah:  And for those of you who aren’t big fans of snakes, you may not have liked this, but when I walked up to the king cobra, it was sitting there watching me, looking at me.  It came forward, not in an aggressive way but just kind of seeing what I was up to.  

Scott:  Right, they’re very bold for snakes.  They’re one of the biggest predators in the woods.  They don’t have a lot of natural enemies besides people so they can be fairly bold.  Whereas a rat snake’s going to hide all the time, a king cobra’s going to come over to see what’s happening.

Micah:  So here we are behind the scenes with the really cool program they have here.  Reproduce them.  Distribute them to other zoos.  The king cobra, the king of the snakes, and you can see them here at Riverbanks Zoo.  See you next time.
 


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