Updated: October 30, 2021 8:58:28 pm
New research by a wildlife biologist has found that the king cobra has four different lineages which are geographically separate and are found in the Western Ghats, Indo-Chinese region, Indo-Malayan region and Luzon in the Philippines.
The king cobra has so far been considered a monotypic genus, which means the most venomous snake all over the world was thought to be a single species under the genus Ophiophagus (ophio means snake, phagus stands for eating).
Wildlife biologist P Gowri Shankar collaborated with the state forest departments of Karnataka, Odisha, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andaman Islands, Goa, Mizoram and Uttarakhand to collect samples and obtain tissues from zoos and museums.
The team analysed the DNA of king cobras from across and discovered that they were not a single species, but composed of four divergent lineages. “King cobras occur in varied habitats ranging from the tropics, subtropics and temperate areas. They are found in the wet regions of the Western and Eastern Ghats of Peninsular India and the Andaman Islands, the Himalayan foothills of northern India (Uttarakhand), across Northeast India to southern China, and across Southeast Asia all the way to the Philippines,” Shankar told The Indian Express.
“We know next to nothing when it comes to king cobra venom. Apart from answering fundamental and theoretical questions, this study will help assess which species of king cobras need immediate attention and what conservation measures need to be implemented. In addition, studying the venom composition of these species will have a direct impact on the efficacy of anti-venom and snake bite mitigation,” he added.
According to Shankar, the findings are remarkable. “Spending close to a decade on this with a diverse team is worth every minute as these results have set the baseline for all further work related to king cobra conservation,” Shankar said.
At present, the king cobra is categorised as ‘vulnerable’ under the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.
Shankar collaborated with Wolfgang Wuster of Bangor University and Indraneil Das from the University of Sarawak, Malaysia.
His research work was supervised by Dr Kartik Shanker from the Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science (IISc) with Prof SK Dutta from the department of life sciences, North Orissa University and Jacob Hoglund from Uppsala University in Sweden.
Shankar, the co-founder and director of Kalinga Foundation, a research and conservation organisation based in Karnataka’s Agumbe, has been studying king cobras for close to two decades.
As a field biologist, he has been studying the natural history of king cobras for over two decades at Agumbe. As part of his study, he has rescued and relocated over 375 king cobras from distress situations, monitored over 50 king cobra nests and released over 500 king cobra hatchlings back into the wild.
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