INDIA
2001


"The Cobra's Revenge"

Seethanadi, Karnataka State

 

Seethanadi was where we conducted our hearing experiments with king cobras but before we managed to capture one we tested a Common cobra (Naja naja) to see if it was responsive. Bruce, Anees and I went out onto a nearby grassy hill to test whether the cobra would respond to Bruce's recorded king cobra growls. The cobra sat there and hooded, completely oblivious to the experiment.

Bruce Young testing his equipment on an
Indian cobra, Naja naja

 

Mark & Anees was Bruce testing the cobra's hearing, it is in the central bush
Completely bemused by it all and more interested in my boot

 

We took the sick male king cobra back to Seethanadi and gave it a tubed meal of eggs yolk and nursed it carefully for two days.

The 1st Someshwara King cobra
3.6 m male King cobra, Ophiophagus hannah

 

Trying to get a meal into the sick king cobra

 

Despite our best efforts the king cobra died on the third day. In keeping with Hindu custom in southern India, we gave the deceased king cobra a Hindu funeral, a cremation with the ceremony precided over by a local Hindu holyman. Anees, Asif and I (two Muslims and a Christian) respectfully stood by as the funeral took place and the funeral pyre was ignited.

The king is dead... Long live the king
The funeral of the dead king cobra

We also brought the second, much healthier, female king cobra back to Seethanadi for our hearing experiments.

The 2nd Someshwara King cobra
3.0m female King cobra, Ophiophagus hannah

 

Also at Seethanadi we constructed a large enclosure with 2.0m high canvas walls and placed the kig cobra inside. She explored the enclosure widely. There were holes in the canvas walls through which we could observe and film the cobra. Also inside the enclosure was a set of speakers through which Bruce would play king cobra growls, recorded from captive specimens in the US, to see if there was any reaction from the wild female.

Our king cobra enclosure, outside and inside
The king cobra explores the enclosure
While we talked the king sought me out Eyeball to eyeball with the king
My POV (point of view) of the king cobra

 

Director Julian meets the King cobra, Ophiophagus hannah

Our experiments were really rather inconclusive, she did not appear to respond to the growls played to her, but something else strange did happen. Twice the female king sought me out, the first time climbing the canvas wall to peer down on me from above, the second time locating me and hooding up in front of my viewing hole, swaying and looking into my face, her pupils even appearing to focus on me, something I would think impossible for a snake's eyes. It was a very spiritual experience, I was sure she was asking me why I had captured her and was subjecting her to all this attention. Because of this I was extremely pleased when we had finished filming her and I could take this beautiful king cobra and release her into a forest creek far enough away from human habitations to ensure her survival. I watched her swim away downstream and disappear.

The king cobra is released, a wonderful moment

 

The Karnataka phase of our expedition completed and successful we set out for phase two. We overnighted in Mangalore at the Taj Manjurin Hotel, then flew to Bangalore and then Chennai, overnighting at the Le Royal Meridien Hotel, and the following day flew to Bhubaneshwar, the capital of Orissa State, northeastern India.