CHENNAI: Was it a common case of cannibalism in the animal kingdom or a sacrifice to preserve its kind? Residents of the suburb of Guduvanchery recently witnessed the unusual sight of a female king cobra devouring a male inside a pit.
City-based reptile conservationist R Nishanth says the two cobras, a male and a female, had fallen into the pit near a field close to a village.
“Last Monday, we were informed that two cobras had fallen into a pit near Guduvanchery. Cobras are rarely found in this area, but they were indeed two of the venomous snakes there. In 30 minutes, one of them ate the other,” said Nishanth. The female then laid 28 eggs.
Blue Cross’ Dawn Williams said cannibalism does occur in snakes, but usually “a violent fight” precedes one snake swallowing the other. Some kill and eat their own species to protect territory, others for food. In this case, there was no sign of a conflict. There are often instances of a male cobra eating the female, especially in the breeding season.
“In this case, the male snake allowed itself to be eaten by the starving female,” said Williams, who was part of the team that visited the spot, 12km from Tambaram.
People in villages near Guduvanchery have worshipped snakes for centuries, said Anurima Sitara Ghosh, a volunteer with Blue Cross. “Residents of villages revere snakes and continue to worship them,” she says. But why did the volunteers not try and save the snake before it was eaten up? Blue Cross’ Williams said, “In incidents like cannibalism or fights among animals, humans should never intervene.” As it was getting dark, the team left and returned the next day.
The cobra was coiled around the recently laid eggs. “People told us that the snakes had fallen into the pit more than a month ago. Some people had tried to feed them milk (snakes don’t consume milk),” Williams said.
The female snake was later rescued along with the unhatched eggs and given to the authorities at Vandalur zoo.