King cobras in Chhattisgarh: Is climate change behind 31 new nesting spots

This is the first such discovery in central India; it points to habitat expansion, say experts
A king cobra was first reportedly spotted in Chhattisgarh in 2014. Photo for representation: Wikimedia Commons
A king cobra was first reportedly spotted in Chhattisgarh in 2014. Photo for representation: Wikimedia Commons

The presence of king cobras has been confirmed in Chhattisgarh. There was no known evidence of the longest venomous snake in Chhattisgarh or all of central India before this. The discovery raises questions on how climate change might be impacting the species, experts said. 

King cobra populations and habitat have been shrinking and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List has declared it as ‘vulnerable’. The list is the world’s most comprehensive information source on the global conservation status of animal, fungi and plant species.

However, 31 nesting spots of king cobras have been confirmed in the Korba forest range.

“King cobras require a continuous forest patch. Their presence indicates that the habitat is performing better in terms of ecosystem services,” said Varad Giri, a herpetologist. However, more research is needed on habitat conditions.

Reptiles cannot maintain body temperatures and depend on their surrounding temperatures for their survival, Giri said. “The weather determines its distribution in the geographic area. The species require colder temperatures,” he said.

When temperatures rise, the species start moving to higher altitudes. However, as they move towards mountain tops or other areas, food and oxygen decline, which threatens their survival. “Such aspects of climate change need to be assessed as to whether they have positive or negative effects for king cobras,” Giri added.

The search for king cobras in Chhattisgarh began in 2014 after a reptile was first sighted in a forest, said M Suraj from Nova Nature Welfare Society (NNWS). The body is an autonomous non-profit animal welfare and wildlife conservation organisation in India.

“We first believed that the snake was released by a snake charmer or travelled through mining or transportation areas,” Suraj told Down To Earth. However, more instances of sightings necessitated the need for more research on the species in the region.

Divisional forest officer of Chhattisgarh Priyanka Pandey, Suraj and Jitendra Sarathi, another NNWS member, led the research to find the species in the elusive, dense and untouched jungles of Korba.

The team consisted of seven people, including two biologists. They looked for clues, took notes from locals and finally located a reptile in October 2021 after a 45-day search.

“We found the first one near a water body. It was 14 feet long (4.26 metres) and black with the usual white bands. Successive efforts helped to document 31 confirmed nesting sites of the species,” Suraj said.

Earlier, the king cobra’s habitat stretched across India, but it has since shrunk due to anthropogenic interventions, said Pandey. “The place where we found the species is still untouched and isolated, so it is ideal for king cobras,” she said.

The location seems to be an extended habitat of the species, said Gowri Shankar, a wildlife biologist who specialises in king cobra conservation. “The king cobra is known to exist in Jharkhand, Odisha and further east up to Thailand. Hence, the species distribution may have expanded in central India,” he said.

More data and research is required to corroborate the evidence that will help to know more about the species and its behaviour and impact on the area, Shankar further said.

The species faces multiple threats. “Korba has several active mines for its thermal power plants. Heavy vehicles may pass near king cobra habitats in the future and encroachments and uncontrolled tourism activities may affect the existing population,” Pandey added.

Forest fires are another major threat, she further said. “We have deployed fire blowers and taken strict measures to prevent forest fires. Our primary objective is to protect the existing forest and allow nature to revive at its pace,” she said.

The snake is also delineated in Schedule II (part II) of the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972. The Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of wild flora and fauna — a multilateral treaty — lists it under Appendix II.

Related Stories

No stories found.
Down To Earth