The Cape cobra is one of the two snakes that account for the majority of snakebite deaths in southern Africa. Johan Marais from the African Snakebite Institute (ASI) talks about this nervous snake.
The Cape cobra, also known as the Geelslang or Koperkapel in Afrikaans, occurs largely in the Western and Northern Cape but is also found in the Eastern Cape, Free State, Lesotho, North West, Botswana, and Namibia. It is a highly venomous snake with a potent neurotoxic venom, not unlike that of the black mamba, and it is no surprise that these two snakes account for most snakebite deaths in southern Africa.
Yellow and golden orange colours are commonly seen throughout the range of this snake, but chocolate brown, light yellow and speckled individuals are also found. Juveniles are usually a light brown colour with a dark bar covering most of the chest that is clearly visible when a hood is formed. The Cape cobra inhabits fynbos, Karoo scrub, arid savanna and the Namib Desert, where it lives in rodent burrows, rock crevices and deserted termite mounds. It is frequently found near human dwellings and in suburban gardens. This snake is well known for raiding sociable weaver nests. Adults average around 1.4m in length but may reach a length of 2m. It is preyed upon by small carnivores and birds of prey.
It is a nervous snake and is quick to escape, but when cornered – especially by dogs – it will stand its ground and form a hood, often with the mouth open. If it has half a chance it will drop to the ground and move off quickly, otherwise it may strike readily. This snake feeds on rodents, birds, other snakes (especially the puff adder), toads and lizards. Females lay eight to 20 eggs in midsummer, and the hatchlings measure 34-40cm in length. They are perfect replicas of the adults and can immediately form an impressive hood. Cape cobras do not spit their venom. Humans are at risk as it is an extremely dangerous snake with a potent neurotoxic venom that may cause progressive weakness and affect breathing. Victims often need artificial respiration and urgent hospitalisation. The polyvalent antivenom is effective against the venom of the Cape cobra and is usually given in large quantities.
About the ASI
The African Snakebite Institute (ASI) is the leading training provider of Snake Awareness, First- Aid for Snakebite and Venomous Snake Handling courses in Africa. These courses are presented by Johan Marais, one of Africa’s leading herpetologists with over 40 years of experience, in conjunction with Luke Kemp, a zoology graduate who has been working at ASI for the past four years. Besides their public and corporate training courses, ASI provides additional educational information, interesting reads and various tips in newsletters, articles, posters and other documents on their website. They are the largest distributors of snake handling equipment on the continent and have developed a free app that includes first-aid information, snake identification features, snake removal information and more.
Product enquiries: +27 60 957 2713
Course enquiries: +27 73 186 9176
Snakebite emergencies: +27 82 494 2039.