In the King’s Footsteps – The New Indian Express
Express news service
SHIVAMOGGA: The thick and lush jungles of the Western Ghats are ruled by a magnificent creature. The specimen can grow to a towering length of 12 feet, but it can crawl artfully and stealthily after its prey – other snakes – which are its predominant diet. There is a great deal of awe and mysterious beauty surrounding the world’s largest poisonous snake, the king cobra, which was skillfully captured by an adventurous Indian researcher through a series of studies of the great snake.
Now, biologist P Gowrishankar, through his latest observations, has discovered that the king cobra (Ophiophagus Hannah), which is endemic to several parts of Asia, has four divergent lineages. In India, two of these lineages can be traced – one is found in the Western Ghats of Karnataka and the other in the Eastern Ghats, stretching across the border from the East Godavari district to Rajahmundry. in Andhra Pradesh, as far as Odisha, Uttarakhand, and subsequently as far as Nepal, and even as far as Cambodia.
As part of his research, the wildlife biologist looked at the widespread distribution and hypotheses that king cobras could represent a species complex, meaning there could be multiple species. The research focused on the limits within which the snake’s habitat exists on earth, and its large area was considered the predominant subject of study, which took eight long years to prove this conclusion. .
Explaining the importance of his research on the king cobra, Gowrishankar says that in all geographies, king cobras have been considered a monotypic genus – a “single species” – under the genus Ophiophagus.
They have long wandered the jungles of South and Southeast Asia. It is the longest poisonous snake in the world, with a taste for other snakes, which might have prompted Danish zoologist TE Cantor to suggest the scientific name Ophiophagus Hannah (Ophio = snake, phagus = to eat) in 1836.
King cobras reside in a variety of habitats, ranging from the tropics, subtropics, and temperate areas. They are found in the humid regions of the western and eastern Ghats of peninsular India, the Andaman Islands, the Himalayan foothills of Uttarakhand, northeast to southern China and Southeast Asia as well, to the Philippines.
âOur research has shown that there are four geographically separate lineages that we consider to be confirmed candidate species: a) Western Ghats; b) Indochinese; c) Indo-Malay; and d) the island of Luzon in the Philippine archipelago, âhe said.
Based on extensive geographic sampling across most of the species’ range, he first tested candidate species (CS) using maximum likelihood analysis of mitochondrial genes. Next, he tested the resulting CS using both morphological data and sequences from three single copy nuclear genes. Subsequently, multiple molecular analyzes and morphological characters were used to confirm his research results.
Gowrishankar established the Kalinga Foundation and a research laboratory in Agumbe. Although not his first contact with the snake, Gowrishankar is well known for his conservation work, having rescued over 375 king cobras, guarded 50 nests, and released more than 500 hatchlings into the wild. He is the author and co-author of several scientific articles on king cobras, in addition to other herpetological topics.
He was instrumental in initiating a pioneering radiotelemetry study of king cobras and was able to uncover the secret lives of snakes. He is an authority on king cobra ecology and has featured in several wildlife documentaries including ‘King and I’, ‘Secrets of the King Cobra’, ‘Asia’s Deadliest Snake’, ‘Wildest India’, ‘Mysteries of Wild India’ and ‘The Cobra King’, on channels such as BBC, Discovery, NatGeo Wild, Animal Planet and Smithsonian. He is currently enrolled as a doctoral student at the University of North Orissa. In addition to being a TEDFellow in 2020, a TED and TEDx speaker, he was awarded the âHerpetologist of the Year 2015â award by the Swedish Herpetological Society.
His research was supervised by Dr Karthik Shanker of the Center for Ecological Studies at the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru; with Professor SK Dutta of the Department of Life Sciences, North Orissa University; and Jacob Hoglund from Uppsala University, Sweden.
Gowrishankar also worked with the forestry departments of Karnataka, Odisha, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andaman Islands, Goa, Mizoram and Uttarakhand to collect samples and obtain tissues from zoos and museums in order to trace the lineages of a massive snake.
Over 375 the royal cobras rescued
Activities of the Kalinga Foundation in Agumbe
The Kalinga Foundation was established in 2012 and is engaged in research activities mainly on the king cobra. Gowrishankar is the Founder-Director of the Kalinga Center for Rainforest Ecology, Kalinga Foundation, based in Agumbe, Shivamogga District, an environmental education center and NGO focused on ecological research and conservation.
50 supervised nests
More than 500 newborns released into the wild