The Egyptian or ‘snouted’ cobra is common throughout Zimbabwe, except for the NW of the country where it is substituted by the subspecies Anchieta’s cobra (Naja anchietae) . They live mainly in anthills on vleis (swamps) and in Harare, forage in adjoining properties for rats and toads.
However, they often crop up on plots quite a long way from vleis. They are the most common venomous snake in the built up areas of Harare, probably because of the availability of toads in gardens and rats in chicken runs. They are invariably blamed for killing the chickens or eating the eggs – if the chicks are small or young enough they will kill and eat them but they seldom take eggs.
They are not, by any means, only found in Harare, and there is a very good chance that a resident cobra is living in the shady anthill next to the farm dam which you have chosen to fish from!
Snouted cobras are large, robust snakes, sometimes attaining a length of almost 2,5m. They spread a wide and impressive hood when alarmed, but not always – I have had a number of reports of snakes where the spotter has decided it is not a cobra because it has not spread a hood!
They will strike and hiss loudly to try and scare you off, but will seldom follow it through with a bite. Their strikes are very slow and you have to be pretty dumb to get bitten. They have a habit of striking and actually butting with their heads without opening their mouths and biting. In fact, I haven’t heard of any layman being bitten by a snouted cobra in Harare – plenty of terrier type dogs get bitten because they are readily encouraged to attack the snake and don’t know when to let go!
They are highly venomous snakes and are potentially lethal. The venom is predominantly neurotoxic, i.e. it affects the nervous system. A serious bite will result in marked symptoms in a very short time – 15 minutes. There will probably be an immediate burning pain and slight swelling at the site of the bite, followed later with the patient experiencing droopy eyelids (ptosis), slurred speech and extreme salivation and eventually difficulty in breathing.
The symptoms should not be confused with shock, which is cold clammy skin, nausea and shallow breathing. Most snakes will more often than not deliver a ‘dry bite’, where no venom or very little has been injected. If the victim is not in serious discomfort after an hour they have probably had a ‘dry bite’ and are unlikely to need treatment, otherwise they should be transferred to hospital as soon as possible.
The female lays up to 30 eggs at the beginning of summer, which hatch about 3 months later. The hatchlings are around 300mm in length and are lightish brown above and yellowish below with a very distinct dark band that goes all the way around the neck. As the snake grows older it becomes a darker brown above and then a slate grey.
Sometimes they become almost black. About a quarter of all hatchlings take on the banded coloration where there are up to nine yellow bands alternating with black bands across the body and tail. The yellow bands are usually narrower than the black bands. There also seems to be more banded females than males.
Hatchlings are not banded except for the single band around the neck. They only develop bands as they get bigger. The banded cobras are not a different species as is commonly believed.