(Ophiophagus hannah) (Cantor, 1836)
King cobras often spend time swimming in rivers and ponds where they hunt snake species such as pythons at the edges. That is where I decided to dedicate my time to see them on this trip..
King cobra obsession over a few days…
Whenever I am in Kaeng Krachan in Phetchaburi one thing quickly dominates my time: finding a King cobra! It is almost as if I don’t care about seeing any other reptile. During previous visits to this amazing area I have been very fortunate to have seen around a dozen of these snakes with varying degrees of success in terms of taking in situ photos of them. In April 2019 and December 2020 I had some relatively successful attempts at seeing this iconic species in the same area. Previously I had quite some luck with seeing ‘the king’ close to streams and ponds so I decided to keep doing what I had done previously and focus on those areas. Only having four full days in the area this time I knew that seeing the king of snakes would not be easy, but fortunately things worked out quite well in the end.
A meeting with a king cobra can occur at any time and often when you are not expecting it. In the past this has typically been crossing a road at midday, swimming past me as I was photographing langurs, or even noticing one in my rear-view mirror of the car while photographing a kingfisher! Whichever way it is, my heart always goes into overdrive when I see one. This trip was no different in that regard. The first sighting was as Ian, Kat and I parked our car near a stream and as we all stepped out of the vehicle a king was disturbed as it basked in the open next to the car. It vanished without any photo having been taken, this typically happens around half of the time that I have seen them. Fortunately, I would have two more opportunities over the coming days to improve on my ‘swimming king cobra’ photo album from previous years. One morning in light rain I noticed a large 3 metre snake swimming slowly around the edge of a pond. Although I got some photos it disappeared into the dense embankment fairly quickly. With some persistence I was able to get much better views of the same king cobra two days later. This time it was a different pond some fifty metres away but I managed to see it from above before it noticed me. Using my 400mm lens and some careful movements I managed to sneak up very close to the king as it was slowly swimming at the edge of the pond. This allowed for a much better series of photos than my previous attempts. After some minutes it noticed I was there and swam off to the other side of the pond where it remained in the shade.
Although I have seen king cobras in a number of locations in Thailand and Indonesia this was perhaps my favourite encounter of all as I was able to watch the snake for some time compared to other ones I have seen.
Thanks again to Ian and Games at Baan Maka Nature Lodge for being excellent hosts.
Although I typically took things easy on this trip, there are always lots of opportunities for wildlife photography in this area. Below are a few times I actually used my camera for something else..