(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..
Two trips to Kaeng Krachan National Park in October 2022 and April 2023
October 2022: 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..
I returned to Phetchaburi during the Songkran school holidays for another adventure in one of my favourite forest ranges in Thailand. The conditions were much different compared to my October visit, with temperatures most days reaching 40c, the hottest weather I had personally experienced in Thailand. Everywhere was also bone dry and we experienced virtually no rain compared to my April 2019 and April 2021 visits.
The dry conditions made it tough to find amphibians and reptiles, but certainly helped to see birds and mammals. This was a relaxed trip compared to my visits to the south peninsular in August and December, having morning and evening strolls through the park as well as some road cruising and night searches. Of course, I couldn’t visit this area without trying to see king cobras (Ophiophagus hannah) and I was treated to two sightings on my first evening. After that I did not see any more kings although I did meet five monocled cobras (Naja kaouthia).
Thanks again to Ian and Games for their hospitality and to Ton who spent some time with us in the field. I can’t wait to be back already…