Cape Cobras are a medium sized cobra that usually reach around 1.5m – they have been recorded up to 2.5m in some areas but it’s not common. They have round pupils and are smooth scaled, there scales are glossy with 19-21 rows mid-body, and the sub-caudals are paired 50-68 with 195-227 ventral scales. The coloration varies and Cape cobras are one of the most varied colour of venomous snakes in South Africa ranging from black to high yellow. Some like most caught in the Cape South Peninsula are mottled with brown to dark brown speckled with golden yellow or orange mottle, juvenile Cape Cobras have a dark band across their neck.
They have small fixed fangs near the front of the mouth and cannot spit venom. Cape Cobras are the most venomous cobra in Africa. They have a neurotoxic venom that causes respiratory failure and flaccid paralysis, and symptoms are difficulty in swallowing and breathing and drooping eyelids. Cape Cobras are responsible for the most amount of serious snake bites resulting in death in Africa.
Cape Cobras are active mostly during the day and most commonly seen in the early evening and morning when they prefer to hunt. They feed on birds, rodents, lizards and even other snakes. It has been recorded that they will also eat eggs.
In my experience Cape cobras are quick to defend themselves if harassed but are actually not the most difficult snakes to catch and work with. They are quite intelligent and if handling is done in the correct manner they become calm. Only professional snake handlers should ever attempt to handle them.
In the community I service, Cape Cobras are one of the most common venomous snakes I get asked to relocate along with Puff Adder and boomslang. Out of the three, I much prefer to deal with the Cape cobra. The boomslang is very fast and agile, normally it’s up a tree or in a roof so they give me a good workout. While the Puff Adders are normally sitting in one place waiting for me to catch them, they are the most difficult in my experience. I never hook and tail puff adders as they can spin around and tag you so quickly. I use my broad tongs (the head of them is wide to better support heavy snakes without hurting them) or double hook method to support the weight of the snake better. They strike suddenly and very fast, if a puffie strikes with intention, it’s getting you.
That being said, all snakes pick up on how you are feeling and how you react towards them. If you give off fear and rush, it will become defensive. Cool heads prevail and slow deliberate moves are key in safe handling of wild snakes. It takes correct training and experience to do this safely.