"The King Cobra (Ophiophagus hannah) is listed as vulnerable due to a loss of habitat and over-exploitation for medicinal purposes," the report adds. The King Cobra, a religious icon in India and the country's national reptile, is the world's longest venomous snake.
According to Romulus Whitaker, herpetologist and founder of Madras Snake Park, the King cobra has been placed on the IUCN red list because of massive trade in its skin, meat and body parts for Chinese medicines in Southeast Asia.
The King Cobra, whose numbers have been decimated in the Western Ghats and parts of Southeast Asia where the magnificent snake once thrived, has been declared a vulnerable species and placed on the red list of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). According to the latest IUCN report, 10% of snakes endemic to the Western Ghats, China and Southeast Asia face the threat of extinction. "Snakes are used in traditional medicines and anti-venom serum, as food, and as a source of income from the sale of skins," the report says.
Ophiophagus hannah normally restricts its diet to cold-blooded animals, particularly other snakes. Some specimens develop a rigid diet of a single species of snake and will refuse any other type. The snakes eaten by the King Cobra are mostly the larger harmless species, such as Asian rat snakes, dhamans, and pythons up to about 10 feet in length.
These snakes are diurnal(active by day) whereas other cobras are commonly active in the evening but not exclusively nocturnal(active by night). Although the King Cobra is undoubtedly a very dangerous snake, it prefers to escape unless it is cornered or provoked. This is not true of nesting females, which may attack without provocation.
It inhabits thick primary forests and estuarine mangrove swamps with heavy rainfall (Whitaker & Captain 2004) and has been reported to occupy humid jungles with thick undergrowth, cool swamps and bamboo clusters (David & Vogel 1996; Selich & Kestle 2002; Leviton et al. 2003; Anon 2005; Das et al. 2008). In terms of altitudinal distribution, this species is known to inhabit from 150m to 1530m in Nepal (Selich & Kestle 2002), sea level to 1800m in Sumatra (David & Vogel 1996) and has been reported up to 2181m in Mussoori Hills in India (Waltner 1975).
This monotypic genus of the family Elapidae is considered as a species complex by Das (2002), as the species varies in coloration, scalation and body proportion. The King Cobra is distributed in India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar and most parts of Southeast Asia (David & Vogel 1996; Selich & Kestle 2002). In India, it is distributed in the Western Ghats, Shiwalik and terai regions of Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Orissa, West Bengal, northeastern India and the Andaman Islands (Das 2002; Whittaker & Captain 2004; Ahmed et al. 2009).
Normal colouration is dark brown or olive green, although some specimens may be almost black, while others may exhibit a banded pattern. King cobras will not usually bite unless harassed. A bite from this species is extremely dangerous because of the huge quantities of venom that are produced.
One of the most imposing snakes in the world, the king cobra certainly lives up to its name. With lengths in excess of 5m and a body diameter of over 12cm, it is the longest venomous species of snake. When threatened, it follows typical cobra behaviour by raising the front part of the body off the ground some 1.2m and expanding the neck hood.
Ophiophagus combines the Latin words for snake ("ophio") and eater ("phagus") — an accurate description of its habits. It is sometimes called the hamadryad, a Greek name for "wood nymph." The snake was first scientifically described by a British naturalist named Dr. Thomas Edward Cantor in 1836.
The king cobra belongs to the family Elapidae, which includes cobras, kraits and coral snakes — all highly venomous species that share the common trait of relatively short, fixed fangs. Once classified as a cobra (genus Naja), the king cobra was eventually moved to its own genus, Ophiophagus. The name "king cobra" is therefore a bit of a misnomer, as it's not a true cobra.