King cobras, Ophiophagus hannah, are the largest living elapids, and the largest of the front-fanged venomous snakes. Their large body size and diet of other snakes might suggest that they would have a large home range, but many other snake species are quite sedentary. In a new study Sahas Barve of the Agumbe Rainforest Research Station in Karnataka, India and colleagues radio-tracked three king cobras in the Western Ghats of southwest India.
The large human population has created a conflict that has resulted in snake rescue becoming a common practice in parts of India. Tolerance and reverence for king cobras by local people is common, and humans rarely kill these potentially dangerous snakes – instead they move them. The authors report 320 people are officially recognized as snake rescuers in the Maharashtra State Forest and that they rescue more than 2000 snakes peryear, with many other snakes being moved unofficially. The authors estimate more than 40.5 thousand snakes were translocated between 1997 and 2010, with the animals moved between 15 and 60 km from the site of capture.
To determine the impact on translocating the snakes the authors radio-tracked one snake that was relocated 40 km from its capture site, and two other snakes that were captured and released at the same location (resident snakes). All three telemetered snakes were males. The snakes were followed for about 10.6 hours per day. The relocated snake was followed for 20 months, and the other two snakes were monitored for 12 and 19 months.
The translocated snake moved 83 km during a six month period, compared to the the two resident snakes that moved 45.5 and 30.5 km during the same time frame. The two resident snakes used the same burrows multiple times, while the translocated snake never used the same burrow. The authors suggest translocated snakes may cease feeding and reproduction after they have been moved.
Barve, S., Bhaisare, D., & Giri, A. (2013). A preliminary study on translocation of “rescued” King Cobras (Ophiophagus hannah).Hamadryad 36(2):80-86.