Trail Of The King Cobra
The king cobra is a rare and highly venomous snake. Rahul Alvares, however, is keen to get the perfect shot of the elusive reptile with his camera.
The first time I ever saw a king cobra up close was in 1995. Romulus Whitaker, famous herpetologist (expert in reptiles and amphibians), was filming the movie ‘King Cobra’ at the Madras Crocodile Bank.
Back then I was the geeky kid running around hoping to be useful. At the time I did not even own a camera! Seven years later, I got my first chance to handle a king cobra at the Queen Savobha Institute in Thailand.
Getting permission to handle one of these giant snakes wasn’t easy. King cobras can pack quite a punch with their venom and it took a lot of pestering and a death disclaimer (signing that the institute would not be responsible for any injury or death) before they would even let me get close to the kings!
I had carried my dad’s film camera and despite my limited photography knowledge, the images were decent. For the time, that is!
But by 2008 when I purchased my own Digital SLR camera, my satisfactory 2002 pictures had begun to look very unsatisfactory. I had to photograph a king cobra with my new equipment.
The trouble is that king cobras are very rare. Living in thick, leech-infested rainforests, they don’t make themselves readily available. Even if you get lucky and find one, I can assure you it wouldn’t be amused to have a camera thrust into its face.
Getting bitten isn’t an option: its venom can flatten an adult elephant. It also doesn’t help that there isn’t any king cobra anti-venom available in India. With odds like these, I had little chance of safely getting a great shot of a wild king cobra.
Luckily, Amrut Singh, a fellow snake-handler who lives in Bicholim Goa, runs an Animal Rescue Squad and is well-known in the state for rescuing over a dozen king cobras from human habitations in the last few years. All the rescued snakes are released into the wild close to where they were found. It was to one such release that I was invited.
The rescued king cobra, 2.8 m. in length, was ‘not very big’ according to Amrut! To me, it seemed big enough and, judging by the way it charged at Amrut, wild enough too! But utterly fearless Amrut handled the snake which was twice his height, effectively and relatively effortlessly.
I, on the other hand, wasn’t doing very well. For starters, it was the middle of the day (bad lighting for photography). Then there was the constantly moving snake which had the autofocus on my macro lens running berserk trying to lock onto it. About 120 shots later, I began to relax a bit. I hadn’t got the perfect shot but I had managed some good images.
That’s just how wildlife photography works. And when Amrut calls again, I will be ready, perhaps with even better luck, and maybe a better camera too!
Author: Rahul Alvares, First appeared in: Sanctuary Cub, July 2013.