From spiders to sharks to snakes, Australia is home to some of the world’s most dangerous, yet awe-inspiring creatures.
Take, for instance, the king cobra—one of the world’s most venomous snakes—which can grow up to 18 feet long. Currently, the largest recorded king cobra in all of Australia is a 13.45-foot-long snake named Raja who resides at The Australian Reptile Park in New South Wales.
The 13-year-old snake, who weighs more than 17 pounds, has actually grown over the past year, which is a good thing, explained Dan Rumsey, the head of Reptiles and Venom at The Australian Reptile Park. “Weighing Raja is essential, as it’s the first indicator of his overall health,” he told petMD.
While a king cobra like Raja isn’t the most venomous in the world, his bite is nothing to mess around with. “A single bite is enough to kill several people, or even an elephant,” Rumsey stressed. During a recent milking session, “we estimated that the venom yield was somewhere between 400 to 450 milligrams,” Rumsey said. “To put this in perspective, a tiger snake here in Australia (the fourth most toxic snake in the world) would only put out about 45 to 50 milligrams of venom.”
That’s why the park staff uses “extreme caution” when handling and caring for Raja. “Handling a snake of this danger level takes many years of experience of handling venomous snakes,” Rumsey said. “We keep contact to an absolute minimum and only handle Raja when absolutely necessary. Working with any species of cobra is all about being able to read the snake’s body language and predicting its next move—that’s how the keepers know exactly what they need to do next.”
As much caution as there is around Raja, he has proven to be an invaluable part of research, as well as the Australian landscape. “He has sired two clutches of healthy king cobra babies, who are now living throughout Australia,” Rumsey noted. “Through this breeding program, we were able to see the amazing king cobra mating ritual and watch Raja become the ‘Big Daddy’ of cobras here in Australia.”
So, if you’re planning to head Down Under, you can visit Raja and see him up close and personal at the park. (From the safe distance of being nowhere near him, of course!)