Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 46.djvu/77

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THE COBRA AND OTHER SERPENTS.
THE COBRA AND OTHER SERPENTS.

By G. R. O'REILLY,

CORRESPONDING MEMBER OF THE ROYAL ZOÖLOGICAL SOCIETY OF IRELAND.

DURING a three years' residence in southern Africa cobras and other snakes were my pets and most intimate companions. They occupied my bedroom; they sunned themselves in my windows; they coiled themselves in my armchair and on my study table, and made themselves quite at home among my book shelves and bric-a-brac. Baby cobras were born into my hands, and adult cobras accompanied me coiled in my pocket whenever I went out to take sly observations, through a binocular glass, of the movements of their brothers and sisters still free among the rocks and bushes of plain or hillside.

Above all his peers in the ophidian kingdom, the royal cobra claimed my chief attention. His beauty, the web of Oriental romance in which his name is intertwined, and the dreadful destruction of human life with which he is credited, make him to all of us an exceedingly interesting animal. As man alone stands up and walks erect, the acknowledged king among living things, so it is only the cobra of all the reptile kind that raises himself perpendicularly from the ground and expands his neck as if in fancied pride of his power to dispute with humanity the supremacy over animal life. Year after year, over the whole of southern Asia, but especially in the Indian Peninsula, a vast multitude of men, women, and children fall victims to his deadly fangs. If each year, within the bounds of British India alone, a town of ten thousand inhabitants were to be utterly depopulated by a painful form of death, and if this calamity had been constantly recurring, as far back through the centuries as history has record of, who would not be filled with commiseration for a people so afflicted? And yet in that same country this number of human beings is annually carried off by the bite of poisonous serpents, and the world looks for it as a matter of course. Thus the dreaded cholera itself is not a greater destroyer of human life, as it is but an occasional visitant. As the cobra is blamed for nearly all this appalling mortality, we need not seek out further reason for giving him the title of "king of deadly serpents."

Sir Joseph Fayrer, in his magnificent Thanatophidia of India, gives us copious information regarding his poison, its terrible work among the Indian peoples, and the various methods of counteracting its effects; and more recently our own able inquirer. Dr. Weir Mitchell, has given us its analysis. But as regards the story of cobra life itself, cobra capabilities, and cobra idiosyncrasies, we are still at the mercy of Pliny and his success-