A Snake in the Hood: cobras of the Karoo 

18.08.23 03:29 PM Comment(s)


When you go hiking in the Karoo you are in for an extraordinary experience that includes not only breath-taking scenery, but also the plant and animal life you will view along the way. Snakes are possibly not our favourite – and being shy creatures, sightings may be rare as they slither away at your approach. But nevertheless, the most exciting Karoo dweller we may be lucky enough to spot, must be the handsome Cape Cobra.


The Karoo desert, located in South Africa, is a unique and challenging environment that is home to a variety of snake species, one such being the Cape cobra (Naja nivea). Meeting up with anyone requires nifty retreat and huge respect. But if you’re lucky, you may have the time to view one of the desert’s most exotic and interesting inhabitants, and knowing more about them makes them not only fascinating but also helps you to keep a healthy distance.


Tips to know more about snaky customers


Desert desperados:

The Karoo desert is a semi-arid region characterised by vast open plains, rocky outcrops, and sparse vegetation. This arid landscape provides an ideal habitat for cobras as they thrive in dry, desert-like conditions.


Hot dudes and cool customers:

You may be surprised to know that the Cape Cobra has evolved through several adaptations to enhance their survival in the harsh conditions of the Karoo. Their scales help prevent water loss through evaporation, and they are well-suited to burrowing in soft sandy soil for shelter during extreme temperatures. Additionally, cobras are ectothermic, relying on external heat sources to regulate their body temperature, which makes the desert environment a suitable place for remaining a cool dude despite high temperatures.


Fast and furious:

Warnings here in big red letters. Cobras are highly venomous snakes, and their behaviour is a mix of caution and aggression. In the Karoo, they are primarily diurnal, meaning they are mostly active during the day. They use their keen sense of smell and vision to detect prey and potential threats. When disturbed or threatened, cobras can adopt a defensive posture, raising their heads and spreading their hoods to appear more significant and intimidating. This behaviour serves as a warning to potential predators or intruders. So don’t attempt to smack a cobra because their strike is faster than the human eye can track it.


A convenient menu:

Cape cobras are opportunistic feeders and have a diverse diet. They primarily prey on small mammals, including rodents, such as mice and rats, as well as lizards and birds. The abundance of rodents in the desert makes it an attractive hunting ground for these snakes. They use their venomous bite to immobilise and kill their prey, before swallowing it whole.


One plus one, and many more:

Cobras usually breed during the warmer months of the year. In the Karoo, this is means spring and early summer when the temperatures are more favourable for the development of eggs. After mating, the female cobra will seek a suitable location to lay her eggs, often in burrows or under rocks. She will guard the eggs until they hatch, ensuring the survival of her offspring. Once the hatchlings emerge, they are independent and must fend for themselves from the start.


Safety and security:

While cobra snakes are venomous and can be dangerous to humans and other animals, they also face threats from predators and environmental factors. In the desert, cobras may encounter predators such as birds of prey, the mongoose, and other snakes. Additionally, humans are probably more dangerous to them than the other way around. Habitat destruction, encroachment, and illegal collection for the pet trade are all significant threats to their population in the region.


The cobra’s role in a delicate ecosystem:

As predators, cobra snakes play a crucial role in maintaining ecological balance in their habitat. While they are potentially dangerous to humans, they also play a critical role in controlling rodent populations. By controlling populations of rodents and other small mammals, they help to prevent overgrazing and extensive damage to vegetation. Their presence also influences the behaviour of prey species, leading to more efficient foraging patterns among these animals, further impacting the local ecosystem.


Preserving, conserving, and educating:

The Cape cobra and other cobra species in the Karoo are not currently listed as endangered. However, their populations may be impacted by the various factors already mentioned, and as such, local conservation efforts are always monitoring sensitive habitats and offering public education with regard to snake behaviour in general, together with safety issues, helping to promote snakes and their place in the ecosystem.


Heuningland: African & Karoo tours to stir the heart and lift the soul


We are proudly South African and have a fervent love of the Great Karoo, its people and its unique vegetation and animals. We are passionate conservationists of nature and would like to share our knowledge acquired through years of travel and touring experience. We are therefore able to offer custom-designed and distinctively different tour options:

·  Hiking/camping trails or guided self-driving tours through the ancient landscape of the Karoo.

·  Tailormade safaris to any destination in South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique, and Botswana.


Find out more at: www.heuningland.com