Sunday, April 5, 2009

King Cobra III

A couple days after our recent run-in with a king cobra, Pan pulled the snake out of the freezer for a full dissection.

He and his assistants spent a couple hours weighing, measuring, counting rings, extracting venom, and IDing organs. The cobra was likely 2-3 years old—on the cusp of breeding age—was just shy of 2 meters long, weighed 900 g (2 lbs), and had 56 dark bands from head to tail.

Like all king cobras
, it likely fed exclusively on other snakes and may have limited its diet even further to a single species.

At one point Pan entertained thoughts of extracting the cobra's venom and injecting it, bit by bit, into a pig or water buffalo to cultivate antivenom. If someone was then bit on the reserve, they could simply withdraw some blood from the by-then-resistant animal and inject it into the stricken person.—Snake antivenom available in hospitals worldwide is obtained in more or less the same way, by slowly building up venom antibodies in a horse or sheep.
I figure Pan, who had a successful lab career before turning to conservation biology, would have as good a chance as anybody at hacking his own antivenom.

Still, I'm not sure I'd want the blood of a barnyard animal injected in me and hope I never have to choose between that and trying to hold out for an additional 2 hours to get to the nearest hospital. Then again, future bite victims may not have the luxury of weighing such options as Pan wasn’t able to extract enough venom for the experiment.

After the dissection was completed, Pan gave the gal bladder to Jintong, the park worker who accidentally ran over the snake. In Chinese medicine, snake gall bladder is thought to improve eyesight and Jintong said he would put it in alcohol and share it with his family and friends.

This being China, we then divvied up the snake meat with Jintong and his family, chopped it, fried it in oil, added a dash of salt and hot pepper, and ate it.

It was pretty bony, like a small fish, and I hate to say it, but it really did taste like chicken.


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