Cape Cobra (Naja Nivea)


Family: Elapidae.

Size: 1.2- 2.4m.

Distribution: They are distributed throughout much of the western parts of Southern Africa with higher densities along the southern coast. They are found in all provinces except for Limpopo, Gauteng, Mpumalanga and Kwazulu Natal. Although present in both Namibia and Botswana, they are absent from the northern parts of both countries.

Description: Medium-sized, slender-bodied, broad-headed cobra with medium-sized eyes and rounded pupils. Colour is extremely variable in adults and ranges from pure yellow to brown and even to black. Most individuals are yellow with brown/black flecks but uniform yellow specimens can be found in the Kalahari and uniform brown/black specimens can be found in some parts of the Northern Cape. Juveniles can usually be identified by the broad black band on the throat, which is often display when the animal showcases it’s hood.


Habits: A diurnal cobra which can often be found out-and-about in search of food or in abandoned mammal burrows. When confronted, it usually stands it ground, and it will attempt to bite if given the opportunity. Although more accustomed to the ground, the Cape cobra is also an accomplished climber capable of scaling and perching in large trees and bushes. They are considered habitat-generalists throughout much of their range and for this reason, it is not uncommon to find these snakes within city limits, in close proximity to humans. They are also known to establish permanent burrows which they can utilize for several years.

Reproduction: Oviparous, lays 8-20 eggs underground in mid-summer.

Sub-species: No currently recognized sub-species.


Conservation concern: None, widespread and abundant.

Diet: Rodents, toads, birds, other snakes and lizards. Also known to raid weaver nests.

Danger to man: Very dangerous snake that possess a lethal neurotoxic venom capable of killing humans in a very short period of time. The venom is considered the most potent of the African cobras and anyone bitten by this snake should make their way to the hospital immediately. Most deaths are a result of suffocation following respiratory collapse. Polyvalent antivenom has proven very effective at counteracting the effects of the venom.

Predators: Small mammals, birds of prey and other snakes.

Similar species: This snake is sometimes confused with female boomslangs, mole snakes and other species of cobra.

Interesting Facts: It is responsible for the most snake-related deaths in the Eastern and Western Cape.


Branch, B. 2016. Snakes and other Reptiles of Southern Africa. Cape Town. STRUIK Nature.

Bates, M.F., Branch, W.R., Bauer, A.M., Burger, M., Marais, J., Alexander, G.J. & de Villiers, M.S. (eds). 2014. (CD set). Atlas and Red List of the Reptiles of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland. Suricata 1. South African National Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria.

Marais, J. 2004. A Complete Guide to the Snakes of Southern Africa. Cape Town. STRUIK.

Marais, J. 2014.  Snakes and Snakebite in Southern Africa. Cape Town, STRUIK Nature.

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