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Mohamed bin Zayed Species project number 12254402

Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation (Project No. 12254402) - King Cobra - Awarded $6,000 on November 27, 2012

BACKGROUND Although widely distributed in South/Southeast Asia, the king cobra (Ophiophagus hannah) is considered rare throughout its range, excepting parts of Thailand and India. Much of our limited knowledge about the species comes from research in the humid tropics, such as the rainforests of Agumbe in the Western Ghats, India. With high rainfall and abundant prey, these forests harbour a high relative abundance of this top-level carnivore. Pioneering radio-telemetric research led by Romulus Whitaker indicates that king cobras can have large home ranges, travel big distances, and exhibit cannibalism. Only in recent years we have begun to recognize that significant populations of this snake may also occur in sub-tropical (or temperate) regions, where ecological conditions are drastically different. Our preliminary study in Uttarakhand (North India) at a latitude of 29° N and altitude of 1600 m shows that this snake is not uncommon in the mid-altitudes of the Western Himalayas, where winter temperatures are often below freezing. In the last seven years, 18 king cobras have been sighted in the region. Most sightings were surprisingly in semi-urban areas or in disturbed forests. We also located four king cobra nests from 2006-2011, which were monitored in collaboration with the Forest Department. GOAL AND RESEARCH QUESTIONS Our goal is to learn more about the king cobra’s distribution, ecology and behaviour from this poorly-studied part of its range. This region probably encompasses the northern latitudinal limit, and the altitudinal limit of the specie’s global range, thus meriting further research. In this project, we seek to answer the following: 1) What are the patterns of abundance, predation and nest-building of the king cobra in this radically different habitat? What implications do these have for its conservation? 2) Do the temperature/moisture profiles of nests from this region differ from those from peninsular India? 3) What are the nature and extent of conflicts between king cobras and local communities? How can these be addressed? To answer question 1, we will collect primary data through time-constrained, fixed-length transects, and secondary data through focal/group interviews. A suite of habitat variables, including prey abundance will be measured at relevant sites. To answer question 2, we will place temperature/relative humidity data loggers inside/outside nests to compare our data with those from nests elsewhere. To answer question 3, we will conduct structured/semi-structured interviews to record past/present conflicts, and provide mitigation options. To raise public awareness and empathy towards snakes in general, we will interact with locals (especially school children) through audio-visual presentations and hands-on experience. EXPECTED OUTCOMES A better understanding of: • Local distribution and habitat requirement of the species • Thermal and mesic properties of nest micro-environment • Challenges facing the conservation of this apex predator FUTURE DIRECTIONS • Temperature-sensitive telemetry across space/time (especially during winter) to study habitat-use, thermoregulation and eco-physiology • Genetic studies among different sub-populations to shed light on species taxonomy

Project 12254402 location - India, Asia