Friday, December 16, 2011

Beautiful King Cobra - Love at first ssssight?


As we get ready for a country-wide launch of our book 'A King Cobra's Summer' on December 17, we asked the author to write a post for us. Janaki Lenin (pictured here with a beauty) wrote about her very first look at a King Cobra. After reading it you will know why she writes so extensively about snakes, crocodiles and other animals in the wild.

In August 1993, the Madras Crocodile Bank, a reptile zoo and research facility, received its first King Cobra. Soon after her arrival, the staff and I crowded around the exhibit to see her. She was nervous and remained hidden in the dark recesses of the big enclosure. It was hard to believe that this shy creature was one of the most dreaded animals in the world. Nevertheless, we continued to stare, hoping that she would grant us a glimpse of her serpentine form. No way!

I had never seen a King Cobra before (captive or wild) and what little I saw that morning intrigued me. So I returned later in the evening. She was coiled up in the back of the enclosure but there were lines in the dirt - snake tracks all over the exhibit area. She became aware of my presence and lifted her head from her coils. I didn’t want to rudely shine my flashlight directly at her, so I bounced the beam off the ceiling. To my amazement, she tilted her head up and followed the path of the light with her eyes. I wondered if she thought the circle of light was the moon. But she perhaps didn’t remember the moon having spent long years in another zoo. Nothing about the other snakes I had seen so far had prepared me for this level of engagement. When she flicked her tongue in and out of the little opening at the tip of her snout, she seemed to be saying “Oh” and gave the impression that she was perpetually surprised with the world. Although she was an adult female King Cobra she seemed innocent and helpless, like a waif. She didn’t seem aware that the rest of the world saw her as a venomous and dangerous creature. She was as ethereal as a nymph and indeed, the old name for the King Cobra was Hamadryad, Greek for ‘nymph of the woods’. Finally I shined the light on my face by way of an introduction. She watched – I couldn’t be sure if she saw me.

Every evening thereafter, I visited the King Cobra and spent quiet meditative moments gazing at her serene beauty. The fact that she was venomous was of no worry as she was safely behind glass. I was, however, increasingly concerned about her happiness. She seemed so vulnerable and caged in. My heart went out to her. This was an iconic creature of wet, misty mountains and warm, humid forests stuck in an enclosure. Getting to know her and her plight made me focus on the future of the species and its rainforest habitat.

We're hoping the book will spark off a respect for nature and wildlife among children around the world. We're delighted that 28 Pratham Books champions will be doing book readings or storytelling in different parts of India. If you are in Bangalore, do register to join us at the book launch tomorrow.

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