Big Fat Chinese Cobra - AT LAST!!!

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Hans Breuer (twoton)
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Big Fat Chinese Cobra - AT LAST!!!

Post by Hans Breuer (twoton) » July 16th, 2010, 2:56 am

The Chinese cobra (Naja atra) is definitely the curse of all my herping activities. Since I caught the herping bug two years ago, I’ve logged countless miles on foot and driving, and through sheer perseverance have managed to find almost every damn species on the island, apart from Sinomicrurus sauteri and Naja atra. Now, you will forgive me for missing a diminutive coral snake that spends most of its days under leaf litter – but how come my encounters with the Chinese cobra, a conspicuous snake if there ever was one, were mostly of the DOR kind, and the three that I found alive managed to get away. Granted, it’s not a very common snake in Northern Taiwan anymore – pesticides and morons have seen to that – but I’ve seen other less-than-common snakes in numbers that make them common in my log book at least. So, the only logical conclusion left is that someone’s out to get me. Most likely, there is a God after all, and he’s punishing me for being a rotten person (or, more probably, for my atheism) by keeping my favorite snake out of sight all the time.

Or so I reckoned until today.

Today I was on yet another prowl along Zhuzihu Road, a two-mile stretch of ditch-lined, dead-end road through dense mountain forest, without street lights, settlements or plantations. After exploring my geographical vicinity for an entire year in 2009, I realized that this road is the very best in the entire Greater Taipei area to find snakes at any hour, and so I’m up there most mornings now, losing weight, getting fit and generally having fun by walking inside the two-mile ditch for its entire length, and then walking it back again. Even with the occasional hikers (there’s a major trailhead at the end of the road), ditch patrol is a dark and lonely job, and my thoughts often float to the cobra: wouldn’t it be über-cool to see one rising up right here in front of me? Even a wee little one would do – a training cobra, so to speak, but a cobra nevertheless. Will I ever see one? Thus were my very thoughts when at one spot I had to cross the road to continue my journey in the ditch on the other side. Right before I stepped down into the drain, I thought to myself “wouldn’t it be just insanely cool to see a big, fat, black cobra slowly slithering inside this very ditch, right now?” And when I got to the word “now”, I saw it – not six feet away from me, a big, fat, black cobra slowly slithering inside this very ditch, right now, right there. After all the psychological pressure and frustration heaped on me over the years by the permanent absence of this species, I wasn’t able to believe my eyes at first. I literally thought I was dreaming. But no, no amount of rubbing my peepers and violently shaking my head could take that image away. There it was, the Beast Of My Nightmares.

After I’d realized that this was really happening, reality kicked in with a violent thump upside the head: what the hell was I SUPPOSED TO DO NOW? I had absolutely no experience with this species, only knew from fellow herpers that the cobra (a) doesn’t run away, (b) is quite aggressive, and (c) will sometimes even spit (the percentage of spitters in N. atra is extremely small, and they aren’t exactly great marksmen, but the prospect was unnerving). The only thing working for me at that very moment of great confusion was the animal’s sluggishness: it wasn’t exactly gifted with a slender girth, and weighed at least an estimated four pounds, so even in my stupor I was eventually able to stop its attempts to get away from me along the inside of the ditch by hooking it out and laying it on the grassy stretch between ditch and road. I’ve done this with innumerable snakes before, but I wasn’t prepared for the fact that the cobra is a serpent unlike few others. Instead of freezing or trying to flee as soon as it came off the hook, it attacked me. Me, not the hook. The beast seemed to be smart enough to understand that the hook was just an extension of my body, so it lunged at my legs instead of wasting time with the tool. As I was quite afraid of the animal, for the above-mentioned reasons and out of sheer lack of experience, I had maintained lots of distance right from the beginning, so its lunges petered out three feet from my body. Still, the sheer act of lunging, plus that formidable, low, and LOUD cobra hiss that punctuated every lunge, was enough to instantly create a ton of respect along with a hefty side of trepidation.

Okay, the snake was out of the ditch…what now? I had hoped it would just sit there, hood up, and occasionally bitch at me, but no – it went straight back into the ditch in that sluggish, but determined manner of a fat person trying to catch the last green seconds at a pedestrian crossing. Again I hooked it back onto the grass…again it went into the ditch. Attempts to calm it down by throwing my bush hat onto its head, a technique that works with all other snake species here in Taiwan, immediately ended in the agonizing death of the hat – before it even had touched the cobra, the beast snatched it out of mid-air and bit it twice in quick succession (I was leery to wear the hat afterwards….the thought of residual cobra venom oozing into my ears was too much to stomach). So on we went with the flee/hook cycle. After about ten minutes of this, my hooking arm was just about starting to complain about the heavy reptile, the cobra was finally tired, sat down, hooded up and began its famous staring contest. Finally I could relax a little. I put the cutlery aside, took my camera (always kitted out with a 70-300 lens for just this kind of encounter) and started shooting. Now, lemme tell you that photographing a cobra – any cobra, I surmise - it’s a major pain in the ass when you’re alone, because you will always be allowed only one angle: frontal portrait. You can walk around the snake until you’re dizzy, and it will always maintain eye contact with you, permanently keeping those beady little peepers on the foe. I was lucky, though, because eventually a car drove by, causing the snake to whip its head around and lunge at the new enemy (complete with that horrible hiss), staying in its new position long after the car had disappeared, totally forgetting about me, and giving me ample opportunities for side and back shots. Only after I’d gotten up again, my movement catching in the corner of the cobra’s eye, it whipped and hissed around to face me again.

Eventually, a young couple came along, hiking hand in hand. The atmosphere of their romantic stroll took a massive nosedive when they were about 30 feet away from the snake and me and finally spotted us sitting there on the grass by the roadside. They immediately froze, then hastily turned around to walk back from whence they’d come. I shouted at them to continue their walk and pass us by, “it’s safe, just keep to the other side of the road”. They actually complied, but I think I’ve never seen a face as utterly terrified as that of the young woman who tried very hard not to look at the snake, but couldn’t help sneak a peek just when she was closest to the beast (about 12 feet), which didn’t seemed to help her condition at all, judging from her contorted mug.

After about 150 pictures, I thought it would be a good idea to hook the snake back into the ditch. I’ve heard that cobras maintain their defensive stance long after the threat is gone, and I didn’t want the serpent openly sitting by the roadside as a target for human idiots. Problem was, my hook and tongs are only four feet long. Approaching the snake from the back was impossible, as it kept following me with his eyes, and every attempt to touch it with tools from the front resulted in a two-foot lunge, a nasty hiss, and a freshly re-intimidated Twoton. Two feet of safety margin are no safety margin in my book, so I went and found a ten-foot branch which I then used to gently push the cobra back into the ditch.

Just at that very moment a group of elderly hikers came along. One of them took in the situation and advised me to remove the snake from the ditch and instead put it in a large patch of very dense, seven-foot elephant grass, because “for a cobra this size you can get at least US$150 on the black restaurant market, and there are snake catchers around here in summer”. This time I was able to safely tong the animal from behind, as it had been preoccupied with all those old guys standing by the ditch and photographing it…..

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Steve Atkins
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Re: Big Fat Chinese Cobra - AT LAST!!!

Post by Steve Atkins » July 16th, 2010, 3:41 am

WOW, nice find, what a beautiful cobra. I like the part of the story where the lovebirds come strolling by, very funny

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Re: Big Fat Chinese Cobra - AT LAST!!!

Post by jacy » July 16th, 2010, 4:34 am

awesome story and those are insaneley great pictures

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Re: Big Fat Chinese Cobra - AT LAST!!!

Post by Tim Borski » July 16th, 2010, 4:43 am

Awesome Hans. Absolutely awesome. Great pics and great story...thanks for the adventure!
Congratulations!
Tim

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Re: Big Fat Chinese Cobra - AT LAST!!!

Post by FunkyRes » July 16th, 2010, 5:04 am

That's awesome!

May you find many more, with just as interesting a story :)

And hopefully a Sinomicrurus sauteri turns up for you as well ... looks like a very beautiful snake.

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Re: Big Fat Chinese Cobra - AT LAST!!!

Post by jonathan » July 16th, 2010, 5:44 am

Awesome story.

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Re: Big Fat Chinese Cobra - AT LAST!!!

Post by rosy-man » July 16th, 2010, 6:51 am

how awsome good for you

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Re: Big Fat Chinese Cobra - AT LAST!!!

Post by dezertwerx » July 16th, 2010, 6:54 am

Beautiful snake! & Congrats! :thumb:

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Re: Big Fat Chinese Cobra - AT LAST!!!

Post by Paul White » July 16th, 2010, 7:15 am

huge congrats :) Neat looking snake; is it typical for the species?

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Re: Big Fat Chinese Cobra - AT LAST!!!

Post by DCooper » July 16th, 2010, 7:30 am

Wow that is a ridiculously badass looking snake!!! Congrats!

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Carl Koch
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Re: Big Fat Chinese Cobra - AT LAST!!!

Post by Carl Koch » July 16th, 2010, 7:33 am

Congrats! Beautiful animal, lovely photos, entertaining storytelling! Looking forward to your HN mag article.

Carl

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Re: Big Fat Chinese Cobra - AT LAST!!!

Post by WW** » July 16th, 2010, 8:28 am

Apologies to all Crote fans here, but NOTHING can beat catching a cobra!

Congratulations Hans!

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Re: Big Fat Chinese Cobra - AT LAST!!!

Post by monklet » July 16th, 2010, 8:43 am

How grand! Congrats Hans. Cobras take herping to a whole different level :shock:

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Re: Big Fat Chinese Cobra - AT LAST!!!

Post by Paul White » July 16th, 2010, 8:44 am

Apologies to all Crote fans here, but NOTHING can beat catching a cobra!
as a crote fan, I wouldn't disagree (provided said cobra is actually Naja or Ophiophagus and not Aspidelaps or something).

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Re: Big Fat Chinese Cobra - AT LAST!!!

Post by Ross Padilla » July 16th, 2010, 8:53 am

Great story. Awesome looking snake. Congrats. :thumb:

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Re: Big Fat Chinese Cobra - AT LAST!!!

Post by Fundad » July 16th, 2010, 8:59 am

:beer: :beer: :crazyeyes: :thumb: :thumb: :beer:

Congrats and what a BEAUTIFUL snake...

Thanks for sharing it with us
Fundad

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Re: Big Fat Chinese Cobra - AT LAST!!!

Post by Warren » July 16th, 2010, 9:08 am

Wow, congratulations! Hans and Karl are gonna flip!

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ALT
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Re: Big Fat Chinese Cobra - AT LAST!!!

Post by ALT » July 16th, 2010, 9:16 am

Lovely snake! Congrats!

Apologies to all Crote fans here, but NOTHING can beat catching a cobra!
I think this might ;)

http://www.perthnow.com.au/news/secret- ... 5892662484

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Re: Big Fat Chinese Cobra - AT LAST!!!

Post by jamison » July 16th, 2010, 9:38 am

Paul White wrote:
Apologies to all Crote fans here, but NOTHING can beat catching a cobra!
as a crote fan, I wouldn't disagree (provided said cobra is actually Naja or Ophiophagus and not Aspidelaps or something).
Something like Hemachatus or Boulengerina? Come on Paul. I like crotes as much or more than the next guy, but most "cobras" are quicker moving, more agile and, and much deadlier than our buzztails, making the "catch" W.W. referenced all the more thrilling, challenging, nerve wracking and (I imagine) rewarding. Just my opinion, but I can't remember the last time I broke a sweat catching a rattler.

Admittedly, Aspidelaps are one of my favorites, so perhaps I'm just being overly defensive. :D

Cheers!

Jamison

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Re: Big Fat Chinese Cobra - AT LAST!!!

Post by Paul White » July 16th, 2010, 9:47 am

I have been trying to convince the wife to let me keep Aspidelaps since I got married so I understand the enjoyment of them :)
I just don't know that I'd rate a big, 6' angry WDB as less...challenging than a coral cobra. I forgot entirely about Hemachatus and Boulengerina though :oops: That's embarrassing. Particularly Hemachatus.

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Re: Big Fat Chinese Cobra - AT LAST!!!

Post by Kevin Messenger » July 16th, 2010, 10:17 am

WOW that is very awesome Hans!! I can't imagine how excited you must have been. It is nice when something like that pays off big time

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Re: Big Fat Chinese Cobra - AT LAST!!!

Post by Viridovipera » July 16th, 2010, 2:29 pm

:thumb: :thumb: :thumb: :thumb: :thumb: Congrats Hans! Now you know how much energy, time, patience and near-death experiences go into getting one of those "cliche" shots of a cobra hooded up in front of the camera. Maybe next time someone posts a picture like that they'll give a description half as awesome as yours. That's also the reason why I left the cobra that I found safely lodged in a tree. That's one beautiful snake though! The question is, though, was it worth the wait? Congrats again!

-Alex

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Re: Big Fat Chinese Cobra - AT LAST!!!

Post by soulsurvivor » July 16th, 2010, 4:12 pm

NICE!!!! Cobras are one of my favorite snakes. Awesome find, Hans!

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Re: Big Fat Chinese Cobra - AT LAST!!!

Post by kyle loucks » July 16th, 2010, 4:16 pm

Awesome animal Hans! I think this is the first wild cobra I have seen posted here on the forum.

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Re: Big Fat Chinese Cobra - AT LAST!!!

Post by joeysgreen » July 16th, 2010, 5:08 pm

Is there a drool icon somewhere?

Ian

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Re: Big Fat Chinese Cobra - AT LAST!!!

Post by Nigel Smith » July 16th, 2010, 6:06 pm

Whoa......Congrats :thumb: I read in one of your previous posts that you were trying in vain to find one.

Thanks for the new desktop pic also :thumb: Those pictures are AWESOME!!!

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Re: Big Fat Chinese Cobra - AT LAST!!!

Post by carlo bongio » July 16th, 2010, 6:49 pm

I said it once and I will say it again I love your posts!Thanks :thumb: :beer:

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Re: Big Fat Chinese Cobra - AT LAST!!!

Post by Chad M. Lane » July 16th, 2010, 8:22 pm

Wow is what comes to mind! Great story, and photos! Thanks for posting!



Cheers,
Chad

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Re: Big Fat Chinese Cobra - AT LAST!!!

Post by WW** » July 17th, 2010, 2:31 am

ALT wrote:Lovely snake! Congrats!

Apologies to all Crote fans here, but NOTHING can beat catching a cobra!
I think this might ;)

http://www.perthnow.com.au/news/secret- ... 5892662484
LOL, yes, that would get the heart rate up a tad as well ;)

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Re: Big Fat Chinese Cobra - AT LAST!!!

Post by hellihooks » July 17th, 2010, 7:42 am

Great narrative and find :thumb: I got a 'most thrilling' thread going on the Ca. forum... and so far, I don't think anyone has beat my gator story... but I'd say this certainly does. That is one (_*_)ing herp... :shock: :lol: :lol:
Oh, and BTW... the Snake Gods are a conceited bunch... they typically require submission and surrender before they deign to fufill your desires... usually on the way home, after paying them their homage.... :roll: :lol: :lol: jim

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Re: Big Fat Chinese Cobra - AT LAST!!!

Post by Crimson King » July 17th, 2010, 2:38 pm

Wow. Fantastic! Thanks for the photos and accounts. I'm totally envious.
:Mark

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Re: Big Fat Chinese Cobra - AT LAST!!!

Post by reako45 » July 17th, 2010, 3:01 pm

Incredible. One can only dream of a herp trip find like that.

reako45

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Re: Big Fat Chinese Cobra - AT LAST!!!

Post by Hans Breuer (twoton) » July 17th, 2010, 6:53 pm

Thanks very much for all the heaping kudos, gentle(wo)men!

@Paul White:
Neat looking snake; is it typical for the species?
Well....kind of. snakesoftaiwan.com explains further:

The populations in different geographic regions of Taiwan reveal a unique composition of ventral coloration: the eastern population is exclusively blackish (100%), the central and southern populations are mainly white to gray (both 80%), and the proportions of blackish and white-gray morphs in the northern population are 60% and 30%, respectively.

@Carl Koch:
Looking forward to your HN mag article.
Thanks! It's well worth the wait, I think- I had oodles of fun writing it!

@Warren:
Hans and Karl are gonna flip!
And flip they did - the only reason they didn't accompany me on that hike was their summer holiday Friday morning judo lesson, which they could easily have skipped. But who can foresee these things?

@Viridovipera:
That's also the reason why I left the cobra that I found safely lodged in a tree.
What was? Trepidation?
The question is, though, was it worth the wait?
What do you mean? It sure was! Major emotional, educational, and adrenaloid blowout. Hell, I've been dreaming about that animal for the last two nights, seriously. I think Wolfgang might be onto something when he says that nothing beats catching a cobra...

@kyle loucks:
I think this is the first wild cobra I have seen posted here on the forum.
Actually, there've been quite a number of cobra postings here, mostly from South Africa and Thailand.

@hellihooks:
the Snake Gods are a conceited bunch... they typically require submission and surrender before they deign to fufill your desires... usually on the way home
Exactly. That's why I never make any shortcuts ("aw, forget about that rock/log/ditch over there, there won't be anything under/in it anyway"), and never give up hope until I'm back at the car/bike. I've found herps so many times close to or even in the parking lot, after a long, fruitless and frustrating hike. I call it the "cobra under the car" doctrine: "Never despair - there might be a cobra right under the car at the end of this walk!"

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Re: Big Fat Chinese Cobra - AT LAST!!!

Post by Viridovipera » July 17th, 2010, 8:05 pm

Hans Breuer (twoton) wrote:
@Viridovipera:
That's also the reason why I left the cobra that I found safely lodged in a tree.
What was? Trepidation?
The question is, though, was it worth the wait?
What do you mean? It sure was! Major emotional, educational, and adrenaloid blowout. Hell, I've been dreaming about that animal for the last two nights, seriously. I think Wolfgang might be onto something when he says that nothing beats catching a cobra...
Well no, not trepidation. I was uncertain as to whether or not the cobra I had found was a spitter or not, and I didn't have glasses with me. The reason I left it in the tree was because of the possibility of the same temper that you experienced from an animal that I couldn't rightly protect myself from.

As for the wait, it was for me too :D Isn't it awesome how no matter what crap you've gone through (endless time without one, hope building DORs, long hikes with nothing to show for it etc.), one herp like that makes it all worth it? There's some serious life lessons in that I think.

Congrats again.

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Re: Big Fat Chinese Cobra - AT LAST!!!

Post by Hans Breuer (twoton) » July 17th, 2010, 8:23 pm

I was uncertain as to whether or not the cobra I had found was a spitter or not, and I didn't have glasses with me. The reason I left it in the tree was because of the possibility of the same temper that you experienced from an animal that I couldn't rightly protect myself from.
Ah yes, I missed the spitter thing, sorry. Also, any cobra found in a tree is probably mentally unstable anyway, so your choice was most probably the wise one :-)
As for the wait, it was for me too :D Isn't it awesome how no matter what crap you've gone through (endless time without one, hope building DORs, long hikes with nothing to show for it etc.), one herp like that makes it all worth it? There's some serious life lessons in that I think.
For some, probably, but not for me. I don't really bust my ass out there all the time because I believe in success through perseverance - I merely do it because I'm mad as a hatter and just can't help it. But of course, I sell my successes to my children as shiny examples for per aspera ad astra. No point in grooming another two crazies the world will just shake its head at :mrgreen: :mrgreen: :mrgreen:

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Re: Big Fat Chinese Cobra - AT LAST!!!

Post by mikemike » July 18th, 2010, 7:20 pm

Awesome, Hans. Thanks for sharing such a great snake. Congrats on finally getting one.

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Re: Big Fat Chinese Cobra - AT LAST!!!

Post by John Martin » July 18th, 2010, 8:29 pm

Haha, great write-up as always. :D And beaut photos too! Congrats on finally finding the object of your desire. So how long was that snake? I'm guessing ~ 1.5M, seeing some of your equipment in the background. As for the temperament of the beast, I've encountered some similarly aggressive behavior in a few of the various brown snake species (Pseudonaja) here in Oz. A nice thick bodied 7' Dugite coming at you with its head 2' off the ground is, uh, interesting to say the least. :shock: In all fairness to the species though, I haven't had that experience with browns unless they felt cornered or otherwise threatened.

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Re: Big Fat Chinese Cobra - AT LAST!!!

Post by Hans Breuer (twoton) » July 22nd, 2010, 1:28 am

Yes, it was about 150 cm/five feet, I think.

As to your pissy dugites...guess they don't call 'em Pseudonaja for nothing.

By the way, I saw the same cobra again on Monday, right across from the place where I'd found it the first time around, basking on a patch of grass in the midday sun - an estimated 38C/100F! I've heard that cobras love heat, but this seemed ridiculous.....anyway, it scrambled into the dense bush as soon as we'd made eye contact, both of us going "What the F*CK!? THAT guy again!?" :D

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Re: Big Fat Chinese Cobra - AT LAST!!!

Post by John Martin » July 22nd, 2010, 1:49 pm

Hans Breuer (twoton) wrote:anyway, it scrambled into the dense bush as soon as we'd made eye contact, both of us going "What the F*CK!? THAT guy again!?" :D
Haha, beauty! :thumb: Very cool that you got to see the beast again.

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Re: Big Fat Chinese Cobra - AT LAST!!!

Post by ericjansen » September 20th, 2010, 5:52 pm

Hi Hans,

First of all, I am fascinated by what you show to us. Quite a piece of work.

Then (although you might know better), I saw several times beautiful cobra's around the BaiShaWan (White sand beach) area.
There are several small lanes from the small west-beaches to the parking spots.
I bike there quite often, there are signs to be careful for snakes, but it seems to be true, had encounters on several occasions.

Last week I saw the biggest and fattest so far.
Although not a specialist, I guess it was much more then 1.5 meter, perhaps getting close to 2 meter. It was real fat, never saw anyting like that before.

Then, yesterday, I biked into a much smaller one (~ 0.60m) which was crossing the bikelane between Guangdu temple and Damshui.
Not a place where I should expect them with all kids every weekend, but nevertheless awesome.
As most of time, he/she escaped quickly, and rolled over in the ditch next to the bike lane.

Eric

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Re: Big Fat Chinese Cobra - AT LAST!!!

Post by Hans Breuer (twoton) » September 20th, 2010, 9:59 pm

Hey Eric,

thanks for this! I hardly go to those beaches, onaccounta there be no snakes......or so I thought until now :-)

PM'd ya!

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