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The Philippine Cobra – A Poisonous Killer or a Beneficial Species




Description and Rationale


The Philippine Cobra (Naja philippinensis) is a native snake of the Philippines. These small, stocky, and extremely venomous snakes live in Luzon, Mindoro, Catanduanes, and Masbate islands. The venom of the Philippine snake is a neurotoxin, which affects cardiac and respiratory function and cause neurotoxicty and respiratory paralysis. In other words, it can cause death within thirty minutes after the bite if there is no treatment. The Philippine Cobra kills several people, mostly in rural areas, per year (average of 53.8 per 100,000 per year). The habitats of the Philippine cobra vary; they are usually in cultivated areas and around villages.


How does the Philippine Cobra affect on the ecosystem and its environment? Is it a predator of harmful, infective animals? Does it destroy other species? How does its existence influence the people living around it? Do cobras disturb farming crops and raising poultry? Are Philippine Cobras just poisonous species that eliminate other species?




The initial purpose of this project is to research the biology and ecology of the Philippine cobra living throughout the Philippine islands through works of literature, internet and experiments; indirect observations; e-mailing professors; and interaction with people who may have experienced or associated with the cobra’s bite.


The goal for this project is to find ways to find uses for the Philippine Cobras and at the same time, help people in rural areas avoid snake bites.


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Common Names and Synonyms


Naja philippinensis is also called the Philippine Cobra. It is known as Philippinen-Kobra in Germany and North Philippine Spitting Cobra in Luzon. It is also known as ulupong in Tagalog, camulalo in the region of Pampanga, and carasaen in Ilocano. Ulupong simply means “cobra.” Filipinos simply call all cobras ulupong including Naja naja (Indian cobra) and Naja samarensis (Southeastern cobra).





Kingdom: Animalia (animal)

Phylum: Chordata (animals with back bone)

Class: Reptilia (reptiles)

Order: Squamata (scaled reptiles)

Family: Elapidae (poisonous snakes with grooved fangs)

Genus: Naja (cobras)

Species: N. philippinensis (Philippine cobra)



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Morphology and Physical Description


The average length of an adult Philippine Cobra is one meter (about 3.3 feet). Its color ranges from light to medium brown while the young ones have a darker brown with lighter variegations and, sometimes, a dark stripe behind the throat. They have 23 to 27 (usually 25) scale rows around the neck and 21 (rarely 23). just above the middle part of the body. It has 182-193 ventrals (enlarged scales on the underside of the body of a snake), and 36-49 subcaudals (scale on the tail). The Philippine Cobra, like the other entire Cobra genus, is deaf because snakes don’t have external ears, but are very sensitive to movements.


It has a slender body. When the snake is irritated, its hoods flare. These flares are created by the extension of the ribs behind the cobra’s heads. Like all the snakes, the Philippine Cobra’s left lung is either very small or sometimes absent. The reason for this is that the snake’s tubular bodies mandate all their inner organs to be long and thing. To fit this requirement, only one lung is functional. It has no urinary bladder and organs that are paired, like kidneys and reproductive organs, are located ahead of the other.


Its venom in its hallow fangs is a neurotoxin (toxin that acts on nerve cells called neurons by interacting with membrane proteins and ion channels) which affects cardiac and respiratory function. This malfunction can cause neurotoxicty and respiratory paralysis. In other words, the poison can kill a person within thirty minutes if not treated after the bite.


Furthermore, the Philippine Cobras, in their front fangs, have a venom delivery mechanism like a hypodermic needle (syringe) and a rifled (helix pattern of grooves formed in a barrel) opening in the front surface. This allows the cobra to propel the venom out of its mouth. This action is referred as spitting. The Philippine Cobra’s spitting range is about 3 meters (9.9 ft.) Their target is the victim’s eyes. If this venom is successfully shot on the eye, it can cause permanent blindness if left untreated. The spit of venom causes chemosis and corneal swelling.




Getting Food


Philippine Cobras are carnivorous. They feed on mice, lizards, rats, frogs, pugo (quail), eggs, insects, and other small mammals. They use their saliva, venom, to kill their prey and consume it. The Philippine Cobra does not chew its prey, but its flexible lower jaw with numerous other joints in its skull allows it to swallow its prey as a whole.


After the eating, digestion takes place in the cobra. This activity is intense, especially after consuming a large prey, because the metabolic energy involved in digestion is immense. This makes the snake eat at irregular intervals.


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The female Philippine Cobra lays eggs in clutches of 10 to 20 with an incubation time of 60 to 70 days. It lays eggs through mating and internal fertilization (a form of animal fertilization of a gamete by a spermatozoon within the body of an inseminated animal).


After a male cobra mates a female cobra, the male cobra quickly leaves the female cobra since he has nothing to do with the female anymore. Then, the female cobra is left to protect and to take care of the eggs until they hatch. When a baby cobra hatches, the female cobra immediately leaves the eggs. This is due to hunger since it has starved for two months. The mother cobra will leave not only to look for food, but also to avoid the temptation of eating its offspring.




Environmental Factors


The Philippine Cobra lives in Luzon, Catandauanes, Masbate, Samar, Leyte, Bohol, and Camiguin. It lives in several areas in the Philippines. Rarely, Philippine Cobra is a prey of the Philippine Eagle.


Many Farmers and people in rural areas without protective footwear are being bitten by the Philippine Cobras. Due to flooding and deforestation, snakes, especially the Philippine Cobra, one of the most poisonous snakes in the world, are forced to move to villages and places near people’s settlements.


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Origin and Distribution


The Philippine Cobra is native to the Philippines. Many are found in tropical areas where temperature is over 27°C to 40°C between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn. These species are found in hot tropical areas in Southern Asia, Malaysia, southern China, Burma, and Africa.




Importance to People


The Philippine Cobra is an important part of the ecosystem in the Philippines. It is a part in the food web in the Philippines

Lauro Bulanadi, a snake trapper in Barangay San Francisco, Concepcion, Tarlac agrees with Dr. Fabian. Snakes, Bulanadi says, are actually beneficial to human beings. Bulanadi believes man should not fear snakes, even the deadly cobra, whose venom can kill a man in just a few minutes. Cobras (Naja naja philippinensis), he said, make up the bulk of the land snake population in the Philippines…People fear the venomous bite of the cobra and prefer to kill them but Bulanadi uses them to produce a powdered capsule, which he claims is an energy supplement.

For people living in shanty settlements, cobras and other snakes’ skin provides oil to them. This oil can be used for cooking with other food.

Additionally, they are famous for their use by Oriental snake charmers because they respond well to visual cues.




Survivability and Endangered Status


Filipinos fear the Philippine Cobra due to is extremely dangerous venom, and they try to kill it if found. Due to deforestation and urbanization, the cobras are driven out from their habitats and spread through the villages. Now, despite of their venom, the Philippine Cobra is endangered due to too much killings by the Filipinos. The Philippine government endangered the Philippine Cobra, but there is no known action taken by the government, except for arresting people who were caught trying to import Philippine Cobras.


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Potential Solutions




Cobras in the Philippines are uncommon in urban and suburban areas. The Philippine Cobra is, indeed, one of the most poisonous snakes in the world, but usually, it does not bite nor attack except when it is threatened. Once a snake is encountered, Filipinos usually kill it without hesitation even though the snake may possess no poison. It is not yet proven to be safe to eat a poisonous cobra due to the lack of sources. Further research and more information are needed to determine the value and the biology of the Philippine Cobra in the Philippines, particularly Luzon. More studies are needed to further protect the Philippine Cobras from being killed and how they may be efficiently used. Below are 3 possible solutions for the venomous Philippine Cobra. Each possibility contains an advantage, a disadvantage, and a brief report and progress made for this project.



Possibility 1 SNAKE LEATHER



Cobras skin leather is extremely expensive. A product review in eBay tells that a single, fine Asian Cobra skin is over 200 dollars in the United States and the West, Europe. This proves that the Philippine Cobra is a great source of income for the Philippines.



1)      The Philippine Cobras leather is expensive and if Filipinos know the true value of this snake, they can sell the snakes leather instead of just burying it. In this way, poor people in rural areas will earn money to support their family by catching or breeding the Philippine Cobra or other cobras.

2)      Instead of selling the Cobras leather, the local Filipinos can use it as a belt, handicraft, wallet, and other goods either for their use, or to sell to the market and tourists.



1)      Currently, the Cobras in the Philippines are known to be endangered, including the King Cobra and the Philippine Cobra. It is not proven to be 100% yet in the Philippines, but there was a case where a Filipino was arrested for trying to trade Philippine Cobras out the country.

2)      Cobras possess deadly venoms that can kill a person within an hour. For the Philippine Cobras venom, the poisoned person must be treated within thirty minutes. It is very risky to catch snakes without careful caution, tools and expertise. Even though a Philippine Cobra is killed, it the cobra can still bite because the nervous system of the cobra can still be very active. Without crushing the head, a person may still get a deadly bite from a cobra.



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Possibility 2 A SNAKE TRAP



After a natural disaster like an earthquake, soil erosion, landslide, flood and forest fires, snakes may be found in irregular, unusual areas such as the kitchen, water pipelines, walls, and other places around the house. According to the interviews with some of the people in Valley golf, snakes were found usually on outdoors at night during rainy seasons. For such cases, the Snake Guard is available for people to prevent snakes from entering a house. This is a trap made to keep the snakes away from people and avoid snake bites. No living bait or mice is required for this trap. A snake has a tendency to crawl in sheltered, dark areas, so a typical snake will go inside a box-like trap like the picture below. Inside the trap, there is special non-toxic glue that will contact the snake and instead of moving back, the snake will try to turn around. As a result, the snake will contact much of its body to the glue. Then, the glue immobilizes its motion. Tests showed that even the snakes over 6 feet can be caught in this trap.




1)      The cobra can be released safely back to the wild without being killed. This special glue is easily dissipated with regular household cooking oil. Within minutes, the snake can slide off the trap. The disposable trap allows the user to freely relocate the snake and release it back to the wild. The trap is proven safe and is easy to use.

2)      The snake, including the Philippine Cobra, does not have to be killed. Very few of the local Filipinos know how valuable the Philippines and instead of killing the precious snake, why not relocate it and return it back with this trap?



1)      The snake guard trap costs 20 dollars each. It is very expensive to the local Filipinos who live in rural areas. Filipino farmers and other local Filipinos cannot afford to buy these traps. They barely make money for their food, and it is unreasonable for them to buy traps when their economical status is crucial.

2)      This trap is designed to be installed on walls and cobras rarely occur in houses when conditions of their habitat are unfavorable. Many of the Philippine Cobras bites occur outside in the farmland. Because this trap is not designed to be set on a farmland, it is not worth buying one for the local people of the Philippines. it is too costly for one use for one snake.


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Possibility 3 FOOD SOURCE?


Filipinos simply kill all snakes they see. I surveyed some of the Filipinos in the shanty settlement near Valley Golf. The snakes they saw were different in color, size, and shape, but they all ended up dead and buried. In the Bible, snakes are thought to be most devious in Genesis 3:1. Over half of the Philippine population is Catholic and this particular verse may have provoked them to kill all snakes, but snakes are also part of Gods creation. God, when He created the world in the beginning said that everything looked good, including the sly snake. We are to take care of Gods creations instead of destroying them.


Snakes do live around Valley Golf, and some of them may be found dead trampled by a car. This is due to either unfavorable condition of their habitat or for search of prey. Because Filipinos think that snakes are all harmful and evil, small light green snakes, which are active at night in rainy seasons, are killed when encountered. These species are non-poisonous. Around Valley Golf two big, yellow-brown snakes with black stripes have been found. The security guard I interviewed said that it had red and yellow eyes. These were caught eating a chicken. This huge snake that eats chicken was called Sawa in Tagalog. The Filipinos caught this huge snake and ate it. This snake was found edible. Unfortunately, no Philippine Cobra was known to be found in Valley Golf. However, there have been witnesses that cobras do live in Valley Golf. It is not yet proven for the Snake meat to be safe, but according to the interviews with the people in Valley Golf, a cobras skins were used to make oil for consumption.


(If the cobra was edible)



1)      Instead of just burying the dead snakes, they can consume it as a food for nutrients and survival. It will bring more food for children. Some snakes are edible in Valley Golf and if it can be eaten,

2)      This might create less pressure for dependence on food.



1)      Decrease in the cobras population. This might lead to extinction.

2)      Local people possibly can get poisoned if the cobra is not cooked carefully.



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George Watt, Laurena Padre, Ma. Linda Tuazon, R. D. G. Theakston* and Larry Laughlin. Bites by the Philippine Cobra (Naja naja philippinensis): Prominent Neurotoxicity with Minimal Local Signs.” The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene <http://www.ajtmh.org/cgi/content/abstract/39/3/306>


“How to Identify a Poisonous Snake.” wikiHow.com. 4 April 2007. <http://www.wikihow.com/Identify-a-Poisonous-Snake>


Norris, Robert MD. “Snake Envenomations, Cobra.” Emedicine.com. 4 Jan 2007. <http://www.emedicine.com/emerg/topic544.htm>


 “Philippine Cobra.” Wikipedia.org. 1 Feb. 2007 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philippine_Cobra>


“PH Press: Snake catcher taps cobra’s healing power.” Forum.kingsnake.com. 23March 23, 2003. <http://forum.kingsnake.com/elapid/messages/5286.html>


“Precautions With Snakes”




Rolando, Ferrer. Personal Interview. 6 May 2007. Front of Dormitory


Stillwell, Natasha. “Top Ten Deadliest Snakes.” Exn.ca. 5 March 2004. <http://www.exn.ca/Stories/2004/03/15/51.asp?t=dp>



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