Crowing Crested Cobra

Mystery Snake of East and Central Africa.

Variant names: Bubu (on the Lower Zambezi River in Mozambique), Hongo (Ngindo/ Bantu), Inkhomi (Ngoni/Bantu and Nyakyusa-Ngonde/Bantu, "the killer"), Kovoko (Nyam-wezi/Bantu), Mbobo (Rungwa/Bantu), N'gok-wiki (Gbaya/Ubangi), Ngoshe (Bemba/ Bantu), Songo (Yao/Bantu, "strikes down at the head").

Physical description: Cobralike snake. Length, up to 20 feet. Buff-brown or grayish-black. Bright red, forward-projecting crest on its head. Scarlet face. The male has a pair of red facial wattles. The dorsal vertebra of one specimen had articulating surfaces of 8 x 9 millimeters.

Behavior: Arboreal. May also be aquatic. Extremely vicious. The male makes a loud sound like a rooster crowing. The female makes a henlike clucking sound. Both male and female emit a warning cry of "chu-chu-chu-chu." Feeds on maggots from rotting flesh; it supposedly kills animals so that maggots will grow on the carcasses. Also eats hyraxes. Attacks humans by lunging down from a tree toward the head or face. The venom is extremely toxic, resulting in death almost instantaneously.

Habitat: Trees, hills, rocks.

Distribution: KwaZulu-Natal Province, South Africa; Mozambique; Zimbabwe; Malawi; Zambia; Tanzania; Central African Republic.

crowing crested cobra 1 15

Significant sightings: From a witch doctor in Malawi, J. O. Shircore obtained a plate of bone from the crest (with bits of skin attached), some neck bones, and several vertebrae from at least two different specimens of this snake.

In May 1959, John Knott accidentally ran over a 7-foot black snake in his Land Rover in the Lake Kariba area of Zimbabwe. It had a symmetrical crest on its head that could be erected by raising five bony structures. Possible explanations:

(1) A nonexistent composite of several different snakes, suggested by Charles R. S. Pitman, who also proposed that the crowing was not done by the snake but by its victims.

(2) The Gaboon adder (Bitis gabonica) has a pair of hornlike scales on its snout, and its head is pale brown with a dark central line. It is now endangered and found only in coastal Natal and eastern Zimbabwe. Pitman noted in the 1930s that in Kawambwa, Zambia, people thought the animal had a crest and made a crowing noise.

(3) The Rhinoceros viper (Bitis nasicornis) of West and Central Africa has a flat, triangular-shaped head with two or three hornlike projections. Its brilliant color patterns vary among individuals.

(4) The Black mamba (Dendroaspis polylepii), Africa's most feared snake, is found from Kenya to Mozambique. It sometimes carries molted skin on its head, which makes it look crested. It is also rumored to lunge down at people from trees.

(5) An unknown species of venomous snake with a crest or frill.

(6) The Puff adder (Bitis arietans) of South Africa is known to emit a bell-like note; the Indian cobra (Naja naja) is said to purr or hiss; and the Bornean cave racer (Elaphe taeniurae grabowskyi) makes an eerie, meowing sound. However, these snakes have no vocal cords, so they must produce the sounds using other frictive organs. Sources: Horace Waller, The Last Journals of

David Livingstone (London: John Murray,

1875), vol. 2, p. 344; Charles R. S. Pitman, A Report on a Faunal Survey ofNorthern Rhodesia (Livingstone, Zambia: Government Printer, 1934); William Hichens, "African Mystery Beasts," Discovery 18 (December 1937): 369-373; J. O. Shircore, "Two Notes on the Crowing Crested Cobra," African Affairs 43 (1944): 183-186; John Knott, "'Crowing Snake,'" African Wildlife 16 (September 1962): 170; Charles Cordier, "Animaux inconnus du Congo," Zoo 38 (April 1973): 185-191; Karl Shuker, Extraordinary Animals Worldwide (London: Robert Hale, 1991), pp. 31-37.

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