Tag Archives: bangalore cobras

Cobra incubation

Having been involved in urban wildlife management for close to a decade now, I have been on the receiving end of many cobra eggs. Varying circumstances cause these ‘orphaned clutches’ to land up in my care, either the eggs are forcefully abandoned by rescue of the mother or are clutches from captive cobras in Bannerghatta Zoo handed over to an expert by the Forest Department. Most often, however, they are found by accident while excavating on construction sites.

Naja Naja, or the spectacled cobra, is oviparous (producing young by means of eggs) and lay their clutches in rat holes or termite mounds in the hot pre-monsoon months (April to July). One clutch comprises of anywhere between 10 to 30 eggs of which hatchlings emerge roughly 48 to 68 days later. What has always amazed me is how each hatchling is independent upon birth, with fully functional venom glands that they learn to use by powerful natural instinct.

I have been exposed, on multiple occasions, to the delicate process of captive breeding and egg incubation (of cobras and other reptiles). From these experiences, I observed and learnt about the varying factors that need to be regulated so as to be able to achieve full success in hatching.

Typically, incubation is performed under the accuracy (and assurance) of sophisticated incubators that one uses to design a highly controlled environment for the purpose. Apart from being hard to access, this kind of scientific equipment is not cheap either so I hadn’t the luxury of using an incubator.

New born cobra hatchlings incubated at home

 

Instead, I was handed each clutch in a plain cardboard box, leaving me to conceptualise my own apparatus for incubating these clutches of cobra eggs. What I constructed was a simple set up that consisted of a thermometer, plastic container, hydrometer, vermiculite and charcoal. All my equipment was well researched, peer-reviewed and.. made at home!

Cobra eggs take 70 to 100 days to hatch in an incubator. In this expertly controlled environment, temperature and humidity need to be raised in accordance to one another so as to offer suitable conditions for hatching. As one can imagine, achieving this on a homemade, DIY system threw up new challenges every day, demanding constant improvisation based on my assessment of new developments.

In the process, I shifted the box frequently between rooms to offer variations in ambient conditions, using my discretion and judgement of what works best. Quite often the box of eggs would up in my bathroom where levels of moisture happened to be at its best. On that front, regulating humidity turned out to be the biggest obstacle; trial, error and constant dialogue with experts pushed me to choose a little known but time-tested method to tackle the issue of humidity.

I made a couple of holes in the box, stuffing them lightly with cotton to keep moisture from escaping. I had to repeat the exercise multiple times a day and on a timely basis. I would keep select holes closed during specific time slots in the day, regularly switching the swabs of cotton around strategically, eventually achieving ideal humidity for incubation.

Yet another amusing aspect that added it’s own element of uncertainty to the process was that I never actually knew the age of a clutch given to me. Everyday held the possibility of watching baby cobras wiggle out of the safety of their shells. It surely was an exciting time to be me!

2 cobras
Cobra baby making an entrance, emerging from its soft shell casing

I am happy to report 100% success rate for all the clutches I tended to, a total of 400 baby cobras that I have incubated and released into the wild.

Cobras in medical waste

Urban development takes many shapes and forms. This true story locates itself in the construction site of an apartment complex that destroyed a five acre urban forest on Magadi Main Road. On these premises, existed an old dried up well that had become a dumpyard for medical waste from a nearby leprosy hospital.

The abrupt evacuation and consequent destruction of habitat puts any animal in a state of panic, a female cobra must have fallen into the well on account of this confusion. The fact that this took place during the peak cobra breeding season (pre-monsoon months), her pheromones attracted males from around the area, either way three more cobras ended up in the well.

The rescue efforts captured in the video below:

No action was taken during the initial few weeks that the snakes spent in this highly toxic environment surrounded by bloody cotton, used syringes, tablets. Instead they were ridiculed and used as a source of endless entertainment for those who lived in this area. Miscreants would gather around the well and throw stones and eggs at these helpless snakes just for the fun of it.

After a month, and by some miraculous grace of nature, this issue was brought to the notice of the Fire Department, who responded immediately. When at the scene, they lowered their ladder for a person to climb down. He barely reached halfway down the well before the toxic medical fumes had him struggling for air, leaving him nauseous. More rescue attempts were made.. but all in vain.

Time passed by and it was a month and a half later Sanjeev (Into the Wild’s chief herpetologist) I received the rescue call. These cobras had not only been living in a highly toxic environment for two months, but had also been tormented and were probably in a state of extreme distress, hunger, thirst and understandable agitation.

On entering the well, I was overwhelmed by a violent gag reflex to the medical fumes and needed fresh air immediately; I resurfaced puking and sick. I’m not someone who would easily give up on animals in serious danger, so I returned the next day backed by a team of (inter)national climbers – Shivu, Gangadhar and Gaurav – who created a safety net and rope system to belay me down roughly 60 feet to where the snakes were.

I successfully rescued three cobras, but despite multiple attempts, the last one proved to be a challenge. It was days later that the monsoon hit, filling the well with rainwater. Time to seize the moment! Securing the fourth and final cobra in a basket, I placed these snakes in the hands of one of Bangalore’s expert wildlife rehabilitators, Saleem Hameed who succeeded in bringing three cobras back from the brink of danger; surely a daunting task considering the hazardous conditions in that toxic well.

A week later, we were able to release the cobras nearby the rescue location.

Interested in our wildlife rescue content? You might enjoy reading about my experiences with cobra egg incubation.