“Mama take this snake-hook off of me
I can’t use it anymore
It’s gettin’ dark, too dark to see
I feel I’m knockin’ on heaven’s door”
Courtesy: Bob Dylan
In 2019, shortly before the world went crazy with Covid 19 and lockdowns, I was on the island of Borneo in Kalimantan, Indonesia. We have a continuing king cobra telemetry study there on oil palm plantations owned and operated by United Plantations. We hadn’t yet found a king cobra at the Kumai Plantation and then my colleague Muhammad Silmi, who heads the company’s Biodiversity Division got an excited phone call from Sukarno, one of the plantation supervisors. He said he saw a king cobra crossing the road in front of him so we jumped into our vehicle and raced to the spot. The snake had disappeared under the piled up palm fronds and Sukarno pointed to the spot he last saw it.
King cobras are generally very shy snakes and quickly disappear when there are people around. Also, they are usually not too difficult to handle and though naturally they freak out at being grabbed by the tail, will usually opt to quickly go into the pipe and bag setup we use to safely capture these big snakes. This video clip shows a frightened snake with a very different, very defensive attitude. It also shows how near I came to getting bitten, if the snake had really wanted to bite! This was the most difficult snake capture I’ve ever had.
Seeing this video woke me up to realize that at age 77 a man gets clumsy, reacts slower and since I still enjoy being alive I decided it’s time to “hang up” my king cobra hook and leave the dangerous stuff to younger people. My last king cobra is a beautiful male, light coloured like all the Kalimantan king cobras, 3.10 meters long (that’s a bit over 10 feet) and 8 kilograms in weight.
Dr. Matt Goode and Dr. Prima put the radio transmitter into the sedated snake and we released it where we caught it. Though it was tracked every day for the following month it disappeared “off the radar” and hasn’t been found since. As soon as travel becomes safe again I’ll head back to Kalimantan, but will be limiting my snake captures to Sumatran spitting cobras and short-tailed pythons!
February 20, 2022
KING COBRA RESEARCH IN KALIMANTAN, 2015 -2020
The KCC is very excited to be involved with king cobra research in Borneo (Kalimantan, Indonesia). As you know, Rom Whitaker, Agumbe Rainforest Research Station and Dr. Matt Goode, University of Arizona began the world’s first radio-telemetry study of king cobras in Agumbe, Karnataka, south India in 2007, when they implanted the first-ever radio transmitters into this iconic species. The work in India led to the first publications on king cobra ecology based on intensive fieldwork.
In 2013, Dr. Goode recruited Dr. Colin Strine to start a king cobra project in Thailand, which has proven to be a huge success, resulting in several publications based on a large sample size of radio tracked snakes.
In 2015, a local biodiversity research team led by Muhammad Silmi, who works in United Plantations properties, invited Rom to Central Kalimantan, Indonesia, to provide capacity building in safe snake capture and handling, especially in relation to king cobras and other venomous species. They also invited Dr. Aniruddha Belsare to start to build the local team’s capacity in snake sedation and implantation of radio-transmitters. This formed an important part of an ongoing research programme into using biological pest-control of rats in an oil palm estate, where the local team had recorded an unusually high number of both Sumatran spitting cobras and king cobras. The following year (2016), Dr. Matt Goode was also invited to train research staff and help build further capacity in snake ecology.
From focusing primarily on king cobras, the project tracked a reticulated python and now also includes Sumatran cobras and blood pythons, as two of the main rat predators in a plantation landscape. The study about the ecological adaptation of king cobras to oil palm habitat continues unabated with dedicated support and guidance from Rom and Dr. Goode and our colleague Dr. Carl Traeholt from Copenhagen Zoo. While the local team are working on publishing results from their work, positive conservation outcome is already visible on the ground. In 2013, based on the local team’s recommendation, the estate introduced a “no kill” policy of any species, including venomous snakes and today, king cobras roam freely in the estates and are safe from human persecution.
This is a photographic journal of the snake related research and conservation activities of the Biodiversity Division of United Plantations in Kalimantan.
Borneo Photo Gallery
3.25 meter adult male Kalimantan king cobra.
down trees, hurting any animals, catching fish using electric shock or poison
3.25 meter adult male Kalimantan king cobra.
King cobra male combat at Ketapang,
West Kalimantan on the island of Borneo at 11 AM in April.
These are two adult male king cobras engaged in what is referred to as "ritual combat" or "male combat" or "male combat dance". This is a common behavior in many species of snakes around the world and is likely to be a fight over a nearby female, but in none is it more dramatic than between two large male king cobras. As far as we know this is the first time male combat in king cobras has been recorded in Kalimantan on Borneo and only rarely in Thailand, whereas it is commonly seen in the Western Ghats in south India. We would love to hear from anyone who may have seen and videoed this behavior anywhere else in the extensive Asian range of the king cobra
Romulus Whitaker, Agumbe Rainforest Research Station, Karnataka, south India.
Runtu, Indonesia, king cobra eating a water monitor lizard