All photos courtesy and copyright © of Paul Brehem
As duels in the animal world go, it takes some beating. Kipling based a story on it, and found one of his most tenacious heroes in Rikki-Tikki, the pet mongoose who saves his human family from a pair of deadly cobras. But outside the pages of fiction, what’s the reality of the situation when this carnivorous mammal and venomous snake go one-on-one? The following photographic sequence helps shed some light.
To the man on the street, it might sound like a David and Goliath scenario. How could a creature that looks like little more than an oversized weasel take on a serpent literally armed to the teeth with highly toxic venom? To think in this way is to grossly underestimate the power – and speed – of the mongoose, which can dart in and strike the comparatively slow cobra before its hooded adversary is able to bite back.
Unless the cobra is very lucky, the mongoose will be quicker to the draw, biting the snake’s head with such ferocity that it is likely to come out on top in the ensuing struggle. Agility and cunning are usually enough to ensure the mongoose draws first blood, yet even if this fierce, furred critter is bitten by its scaly foe, its thick coat and resistance to snake neurotoxin venom mean it can still recover and emerge victorious.
These photos show a yellow mongoose attacking a cape cobra in South Africa’s Kgalagadi Park. Though not large – it averages 4 feet long – the cape cobra is extremely venomous and every year kills more people in South Africa than any other snake. It is quick to strike, especially when cornered, and has the characteristic ability to raise the front part of its body and flatten its neck to loom larger to potential predators.
Yet while the mongoose is known to prey on snakes, it actually tends to avoid confrontations with the cobra and has no special predilection for its meat. Even so, it seems the reputation of the mongoose precedes itself. The Indian mongoose is popularly used to fight and kill poisonous snakes such as the cobra, though such spectacles are becoming less commonplace thanks to pressure from animal rights groups.
In the wild, even the king cobra – the world's longest venomous snake at up to 18 feet – will typically flee from the mongoose, or if not attempt to scare it away by forming its distinctive hood and hissing loudly. Such threatening behaviour usually achieves the desired effect. The king cobra is particularly dangerous and much too large for the smaller mammal to kill without difficulty; though difficulty is something the mongoose is not one to shy away from.
To see more stunning photography by Paul Brehem, visit his website: www.paulbrehem.com
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