Friday, 12 September 2014

Conservation of King Cobras in Andhra Pradesh

The king cobra or hamadryad (Ophiophagus hannah) is the world’s longest venomous snake, with recorded lengths of over 5.5 meters (Aagaard, 1924). King cobras are listed in Schedule II of the Indian Wildlife Act, and as vulnerable in IUCN (see In India their range extends across the Western and Eastern Ghats, sub-Himalayan region and Northeast India; with their habitats varying from humid tropics to sub-tropical and mangroves. Our study site is mixed dry thorn scrub forests with temperatures over 40oC; drier, compared to other king cobra habitats in India. Currently considered as monotypic genus, king cobras are cryptic species likely to be recognized, bringing the Eastern Ghat’s king cobras up for a status re-evaluation. Paucity of data hinders assessing its ecological and conservational status. Unlike in Agumbe (Western Ghats), people here do not tolerate king cobras, with killings reported once every two months in the last six months (many unreported).   Huge tracts of forests in Eastern Ghats have been lost to development, much of it irreplaceable strongholds of biodiversity. Due to anthropogenic and political sensitiveness, studies about the region's biodiversity particularly king cobras, have been sparse. By using a combination of research, education and interaction, our study will assist the Government in identifying forests worthy of protection based on the presence of king cobras, a potential flagship species of this region.
The king cobra (Ophiophagus hannah), is a top predator and an icon of the rainforest. Through research and education programmes throughout king cobra habitats of Andhra Pradesh we aim to gain further knowledge of king cobra for conservation and human snake conflict mitigation. The data collected will be used to advise the creation of protected areas, using the king cobra as an umbrella species under which the habitat and biodiversity of the Eastern Ghats can be conserved.
Being an apex predator, king cobras are indicative of the health of herpetofauna of the region. Hence apart from studying king cobras, a study of their prey base and the overall status of the region’s herpetofauna will be assessed.

Coupled with the data that we are collecting from this project, we believe that we will be able to bring out a comprehensive understanding of the king cobra, its habits and natural history that will enable the functional conservation of this iconic species.

  • To estimate historical and current records of occurrence and abundance, predicting occurrence, distribution, establishing presence or absence of king cobras in the region (probably an isolated or peripheral population) through surveys.
  • Breeding biology (monitoring mating pairs and nests).
  • The dwindling forest cover push king cobras in conflict with humans, and with almost zero tolerance, they get killed.  We will collect data essential for assessing human-snake conflict, and develop tangent measures to minimize it.
  • Through reptile and amphibian surveys the overall status of the prey base and herpetofaunal strength will be assessed.
  • By involving students, forest officials and local communities, we will create awareness through educational campaigns and drives.
Our larger vision is to establish a permanent field station for the study of king cobras and to carry out long term monitoring.

A dead king cobra preserved at a science college in Srikakulam.

King Cobra feeding on a snake in the reserve forests of  Maredumilli

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