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the Himalayan King 

REQUEST FOR FINANCIAL SUPPORT FROM THE KING COBRA CONSERVANCY (KCC), USA

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Research & Conservation of King Cobras and their Nests in the Himalayan foothills of Uttarakhand, Northern India   By: Jignasu Dolia (Project Lead)

1. Scope, location and overview of work.

The main scope of our present work is to locate, protect, and scientifically monitor king cobra nests in situ, in the Western Himalayas of India. Our work is based in the foothills of Nainital Forest Division, Uttarakhand, northern India. This region is geographically important for further research and conservation of king cobras because, (1) it includes the highest known elevation (~ 2300 m above sea level) at which they are known to occur, and (2) it is close to the northern latitudinal limit of this species. Also, according to latest research, king cobras potentially comprise of at least four distinct, separately evolving lineages, with the ones comprising our study population belonging to the Indo-Chinese lineage (Shankar et al. 2021).

From 2006 to 2022, our 2 to 3–member team has successfully monitored and protected 33 king cobra nests in the wild, having safely released >500 king cobra hatchlings. Nests are often found close to human habitation, (sometimes within 100-200 m of a village house). Often, the first reaction of local people, understandably, is of fear. Upon finding a nest, they initially urge us to relocate nesting king cobras and/or their nests, sometimes even threatening to harm them. However, we refuse to relocate nesting females or their nests due to ethical and logistical reasons. Instead, we explain and reassure the local people that although highly venomous, king cobras do not pose any real threat to villagers or their livestock, and that these snakes play a vital ecological role. Till date, to our knowledge, there has been no recorded king cobra bites /deaths in entire north India.

We get information on nest site location via local informants, thanks to our long-term outreach and awareness programs at the grassroots level for various stakeholders in the region. When nests are found close to human habitation (which happens in most cases, probably due to an artifact of sampling), we relocate hatchling king cobras (after collecting detailed morphometric data), releasing them as close to original nest sites as feasible. This model of protecting king cobra nests in situ along with local community support, but relocating hatchlings nearby if required, has proven to be an effective way to conserve this iconic snake, while also considering and addressing the concerns of local people. Successfully protecting over 30 king cobra nests outside designated protected areas and often amid human habitation, is testament of our commitment to saving this iconic reptile, as well as proof of the understanding and tolerant nature of most local people.

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