The Cape Cobra, also known as the Yellow Cobra, is a highly venomous snake belonging to the Elapidae family. Native to Southern Africa, it is considered the most dangerous species of Cobra on the continent.

Its scientific name Naja Nivea is composed of two parts: “Naja” which means “Cobra” in Sanskrit language, and “Nivea” which comes from Latin and means “Snowy”. This scientific name was given in reference to its light color.

Just like the other non spitting African Cobras, Naja Nivea is part of the subgenus Uraeus. Currently, this species has no known subspecies.

Cape Cobra Appearance

The head of the Cape Cobra is large and hardly distinguishable from its neck. Its eyes are large and with round pupils.

Most specimens are uniformly yellow in color. However, some have a dark brown, reddish, bronze or black color. It can also have light or dark spots on some parts of its body.

The juveniles have a dark part that starts from their throat and extends to their belly. Generally, this color fades during the first or second year of the specimen’s life, and disappears completely as an adult.

Like all Cobras, this snake has long cervical vertebrae that allow it to widen its neck and deploy its mythical hood.

Its hooks are medium size, about 0.24in (6mm).

Cape Cobra Size

Naja Nivea is classified as a medium to large snake. Its average length varies between 4ft and 5.2ft (1.20m and 1.60m). The largest recorded specimen of this species was 6.2ft (1.90m).

The lifespan of this species is quite long, up to 15 years for specimens raised in good conditions in captivity.

Cape Cobra Behavior

The Cape Cobra is a diurnal animal, except during the hottest days when it can become crepuscular. When it is inactive, it hides in the cracks of the ground or in the middle of rocks.

This species is very agile and fast on the ground and can also be an excellent climber, especially when climbing trees or bushes.

When it feels threatened, it adopts the defensive position inherent to Cobras: It raises a third of its body from the ground, opens its large hood to impress its opponent and emits a whistle as a warning. If danger persists, this very aggressive and nervous snake does not hesitate to bite repeatedly as soon as it can.

Cape Cobra Venom

The venom of the Cape Cobra is extremely toxic. It is mainly composed of neurotoxins that attack the nervous system. It also has a small amount of cardiotoxins.

In addition to its high toxicity, this snake is capable of injecting large amounts of poison in one bite, between 100mg and 150mg. Knowing that only 20mg are enough to kill a human, we quickly understand the danger of Naja Nivea.

Cape Cobra Bite

The local effects of a Cape Cobra bite include mild pain, severe swelling, numbness of the affected limb and necrosis of the surrounding tissue.

Systemic symptoms are numerous and vary depending on the depth of the wound, the amount of venom injected and the health status of the victim.

The following is a non-exhaustive list of symptoms:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Severe headaches
  • Incontinence
  • Temperature
  • Drowsiness
  • Excessive sweating and/or salivation
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Hypotension
  • Epistaxis
  • Ophthalmoplegia
  • Convulsions
  • Respiratory and limb paralysis

If the bite is not treated promptly, death occurs within 1 to 10 hours of envenomation due to respiratory failure.

The mortality rate of a Naja Nivea bite is still unknown. However, due to the strength of its poison, it is estimated to be very high.

Naja Nivea has very disturbing statistics, as it is responsible for almost half of the snake bites in South Africa. It is also the most deadly snake in Southern Africa. On average, between 12 and 24 people die each year from its attacks.

Cape Cobra Bite Treatment

In case of a Cape Cobra bite, it is mandatory to go to the hospital as soon as possible.

While waiting for help, here are some simple tips that will limit the risks:

  • Use a pressure bandage to slow down the lymphatic circulation. Be careful not to tighten it like a tourniquet! Do not block the blood flow.
  • Mouth-to-mouth resuscitation may be useful since venom inhibits breathing.
  • Remove any object that could compress the infected area (ring, bracelet …).
  • Do not apply any cream or ointment to the wound.
  • Do not cut the wound or suck out the venom with your mouth.
  • Do not take painkillers.

Currently, there is 1 antivenom against Cape Cobra poison. For it to be effective, it is necessary to administer it intravenously and in large quantities.

Cape Cobra Habitat

The Cape Cobra lives in a part of Southern Africa. It can be found in South Africa, southwestern Botswana and the southern half of Namibia.

Despite its small range, this snake lives in many different habitats. It prefers dry or sandy areas such as deserts or semi-desert areas. It is usually seen in grasslands, forests, savannahs, as well as near water sources such as rivers or streams.

It likes to hide in abandoned burrows, in old termite mounds or among rocks.

This snake is able to live up to 8200ft (2500m) of altitude.

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon to see it in urban areas to hunt for food or to find cool places on the hottest days. It often enters houses, which makes it a very dangerous venomous animal for humans.

What do Cape Cobras eat ?

The diet of the Cape Cobra is very varied. It feeds as well on rodents as on toads, lizards, frogs, eggs, birds, dead animals or other snakes.

Naja Nivea is a cannibal species, which means that this Cobra sometimes feeds on the young of its species.

Cape Cobra Reproduction

The Cape Cobra is an oviparous snake, which means that it lays eggs.

The reproduction period takes place between September and October. During this period, these snakes can become very aggressive.

The egg laying takes place between December and January. Generally, a clutch contains between 8 and 20 eggs.

At birth, the babies measure between 14in and 16in (35cm and 40cm). They are already very venomous and perfectly autonomous.


The danger of extinction of the Cape Cobra is of little concern at the moment.

Its natural predators are some raptors, the Honey Badger, meerkats, mongooses and some other species (even those of its own species).

Humans also kill a lot of Cobra because it is very dangerous for them.


Here you are, you now know everything about the Cape Cobra, the most dangerous African Cobra.

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