An alert reader who doesn’t want to be identified (“I get too much publicity as it is”) has sent in this photo of a slithery creature he met with his child in a Sha Kok Mei car park this week. It is a Chinese cobra, one of the most prevalent venomous snakes in southern China.
Chinese cobras are very alert, unlikely to be cornered and they usually escape to avoid humans. Snake experts warn if you encounter one, don’t be aggressive towards it, because Chinese cobras are likely to be aggressive right back. In the unlikely event you get bitten and the snake injects venom into you, neurotoxins and cardiotoxins will enter your bloodstream. The wound will darken, swelling and pain will develop and invariably blistering and necrosis sets in. The latter can be serious lasting many years. You may also experience lockjaw and difficulty in swallowing, breathing and walking. Antivenom is widely available and death is rare.
Sai Kung’s local hero Dave Willott lost most of a finger after being bitten by a Chinese cobra at this time last year. Called to catch a snake at Tai Wan, he nailed it with tools then made the mistake, as he admitted, of handling it without gloves. The cobra struck and embedded its fangs in Dave’s finger. Chinese cobras have permanently erect fangs in the back of their jaws. After 24 hours treatment at Tseung Kwan O hospital, Dave discharged himself. But he found over time that his finger was getting blacker and blacker. Dave went back to the hospital where a doctor cut most of his finger off.
Chinese cobras are usually 1.2 m to 1.5 m long, occasionally up to 2 m. The hood design can vary, shaped like spectacles, a mask or horseshoe. The snakes are iridescent black, so dark grey they are black. The belly is pearl or slate coloured. They live and hunt in woodlands, shrublands, grasslands and mangroves. Most Sai Kung villagers will see one sooner or later. Leave it alone, treat it with respect and you won’t have a problem. Cobras like hanging around villages because that’s where they can find food, such as rats and mice. Members of the Hash House Harriers report seeing cobras, apparently the same ones, staying in the same location for years. Cobras like to hide under leaves, sticks and rocks. If you have a woodpile in your garden, there is a good chance a slithery character will be hiding in it.
These are not spitting snakes but they do hiss. “I remember,” said one Hash House Harrier, “going down a stream-bed deep in the bush checking out a trail with a friend when we saw a Chinese cobra. My friend threw rocks at the snake. It reared up and hissed. I yelled at my friend to leave it alone. It slithered away. For days afterwards on the street in the traffic if I heard a hiss like that I jumped.”