The Cape cobra is a medium-sized, highly venomous snake found across southern Africa. It varies widely in coloration, from yellow through golden brown to dark brown and even black. In addition, individuals show a varying degree of black or pale stippling and blotches, and although color and marking are geographically related, they are also possible to observe virtually all color varieties at one location. Juveniles generally have conspicuously dark throats extending down the belly for the width of a dozen or so ventral scales. The color fades during their first year or two of life, but while it lasts young Cape cobras are often confused with the Rinkhals spitting cobra.
Cape cobras are native to southern Africa. In South Africa, where they most often occur, these snakes are found throughout the Western Cape, Northern Cape, Eastern Cape, Free State, and North West Province. They also occur in the southern half of Namibia, southwestern Botswana, and western Lesotho. Their preferred habitat is fynbos, bushveld, karoo scrubland, arid savanna, the Namib desert, and the Kalahari desert. Cape cobras often inhabit rodent burrows, abandoned termite mounds, and, in arid regions, rock crevices. In temperate regions and arid karroid regions, they are often found along rivers and streams entering well-drained, open areas. They can be found in forest and high grassland areas of Free State province, in rocky hills of the Cape, and in desert and semi-desert areas throughout their geographical range. Cape cobras venture into villages, partially developed suburbs, and squatter communities where they may enter houses to escape the heat of the day or to seek prey such as rodents.
Cape cobras are generally solitary and interact with each other only during the mating season. They are diurnal and actively hunt throughout the day. During very hot weather they may become crepuscular, but they are rarely if ever observed during the hours of darkness. They are terrestrial snakes, but will readily climb trees and bushes, and show considerable agility in for example systematically robbing the nests of the Sociable weaver. When not active, Cape cobras hide in holes or underground cover, such as brush piles, often remaining in the same retreat for some time. They are quick moving and alert creatures, and although these cobras are reported generally calm when compared to some other African venomous snakes, they strike readily if threatened. When disturbed and brought to bay the Cape cobra raises its forebody off the ground, spreads a broad hood, and may hiss loudly. While on the defensive, it strikes unhesitatingly. If the threat remains motionless, the snake will quickly attempt to escape, but at any sign of movement will adopt its defensive posture again.
Cape cobras are carnivores and scavengers. They feed on a wide spectrum of prey, including other snakes, rodents, lizards, birds, and carrion. They are also well known for raiding Sociable weaver nests. Cape cobras can be cannibalistic and sometimes eat the young of their own kind.
Cape cobras are oviparous and lay eggs. They breed during the months of September and October, and during this period these snakes may be more aggressive than usual. Females will lay between 8 and 20 eggs in midsummer (December-January), in a hole or an abandoned termite mound or some other warm, wet location. The hatchlings measure between 34 and 40 centimeters (13 and 16 in) in length and are completely independent from birth.
There no major threats to the Cape cobra at present.
The Cape cobra population number is unavailable at present from open sources and its conservation status has not been evaluated.
Cape cobras play an important role in the ecosystem they live in. These snakes favor to prey on various rodents and thus help to control their populations. Since they often occur near farms and human settlements Cape cobras are also helpful in controlling rodent pests.