What is a Cape Cobra?

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  • Written By: Steve R.
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 08 November 2019
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A cape cobra (Naja nivea), also known as a kap-kobra, is a slender and fast-moving snake commonly found in arid areas of southern Africa. An adult cobra may grow up to 5.5 feet (about 2 meters) long, and feature various colors, including yellow, copper, mahogany, purple, and black, with smooth, glossy scales. The cape cobra is one of the most venomous snakes found in Africa.

The creature is found in various provinces in South Africa, including Western Cape, Eastern Cape, Northern Cape, and Free State. Besides South Africa, the cobra can be found in the countries of Lesotho, Namibia, and Botswana. The cobra has numerous habitats, including forests, dry bush lands, rocky hills, and deserts. Cape Cobras also can be found near rivers and well-drained open land areas, as well as in unused termite mounds or rodent burrows. It is not uncommon for the snake to be found where humans live, including farms and homes, as they try to escape the hot sun.


A diurnal creature, the cape cobra is active in the daytime, as well as early evening hours. Containing a high metabolism, the snake hunts when it is hungry. The snake typically feeds on rats, mice, frogs, toads, and small birds. The diet of a cape cobra may also include other snakes, including other cape cobras and lizards. The cobra is capable of climbing small trees and eating bird eggs found in nests. Predators of the cobra include meerkats, mongooses, honey badgers, secretary birds, and snake eagles.

Generally, a cape cobra will mate in September and October, and females lay their eggs in December or January. A female will lay anywhere between eight and 20 eggs in an underground area, such as a termite mound or rodent burrow. Juvenile cobras are often noted for having a brown band on their hood that fades as the creatures get older.

When angered, the cobra will flatten its neck and stand up and hiss loudly. The cape cobra is also known for its nervous and aggressive tendencies, making the species dangerous. The venom of the cobra is just as lethal as that of a black mamba’s. A bite from the cobra is life threatening. The cobra’s venom is fast acting and without treatment, a person may die from respiratory failure within two hours after being bitten. Treatment for a bite from a cape cobra requires a large dose of anti-venom.


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