SINGAPORE: To “eat snake” in local parlance would mean to slack off, but a king cobra was recently made to work hard for its meal, a fellow reptile in the form of a python.
The two snakes were locked in a fang-tastic battle that was literally full of twists and turns, across at least seven hours on Thursday, before the king cobra earned its supper.
The scaly confrontation in Mandai was witnessed by a small group of no more than 10 snake enthusiasts who were no slouches either: They came prepared with stools and umbrellas; one even brought his own packeted dinner.
In that group were Ms Rovena Chow, 51, and Mr Alfred Mai, 42, who were on an afternoon walk there when they were warned by passing construction workers about snakes in that area.
It led to the discovery of a 5m-long king cobra that was duelling with a 3m-long python in the bushes nearby.
Excited, Ms Chow told some of her nature-loving friends, who went down to watch the scrap between the two serpents.
Ms Chow, who visits parks and nature reserves daily, told The Straits Times that it was the first time she had seen such a big cobra.
“I’ve seen a king cobra several times, but this is the thickest I’ve ever encountered,” said the real estate agent and avid cyclist, who sank her teeth into wildlife photography in 2021 after many of her cycling buddies – who are also photography buffs – kept pointing out the different creatures they see during their rides.
“When we went to Mandai, we were planning to spot only brown hawk-owls, but this fight was certainly a treat for us,” she said.
Mr Mai, who initiated the trip on Thursday to photograph owls, told ST that when they found the cobra, it was already being strangled by the python.
“It took about 30 minutes before the cobra finally freed itself by biting the python, before slithering away into the wild,” said the engineer, adding that it was the longest fight between two snakes he had ever witnessed since he started pursuing nature photography about 10 years ago.
“It came back an hour later to claim its food, but it didn’t realise the python was not dead, and the duo continued their battle till about 10pm. Halfway through, it started drizzling, but a few of us continued to keep watch in the rain,” he said, adding that they had been informed by other enthusiasts that a cobra would typically return, so they hoped to watch the fight till the end.
Even as the python tightened its grip on the cobra to save itself, the group gave the entwined reptiles space by watching and photographing from a safe distance.
Following a few cycles of tussle, bite and retreat, the cobra then tried to eat the python at about 10pm. The latter was already on the verge of death but, in a final act of defiance, it coiled around the cobra’s neck and squeezed, affecting the cobra’s ability to swallow and even restricting its breathing for about an hour.
Ms Chow and Mr Mai left at around 10.45pm, just as Mr Daryl Tan, who had been invited by Ms Chow, arrived.
Describing the scene, the 34-year-old educator said the cobra had again fought to get out of the python’s grip and slithered away, before returning at close to midnight.
“We knew neither would back down because one was fighting for its life and the other had expended too much energy and venom to leave empty-handed,” Mr Tan said. “At about 11.45pm, the python showed no signs of life and the cobra dragged it into deeper vegetation to swallow it in 15 minutes.”
Similar fights between cobras and pythons have made the news in previous years.
A pair once tangled on a road on the Nanyang Technological University campus in 2015, with both eventually captured by pest controllers. Another pair battled along a trail in MacRitchie Reservoir in 2017, with the python eventually dying from the cobra’s bite.
While acknowledging such previous sightings, Herpetological Society of Singapore scientific officer Shivaram Rasu explained that tussles between a king cobra and a python are not common in the wild.
“It is a risk for the cobra to prey on the python as the latter is a powerful constrictor that will use all its efforts to kill the former,” said the 29-year-old environmental consultant.
“The king cobra, while known to prey on pythons, would be taking a calculated risk when it goes for larger pythons as these individuals can put up a bigger fight, along with the venom taking a longer time to have an effect.” - The Straits Times/ANN