Cape Cobra

Cape Cobra

Yellow cobra, Geelslang (Yellow snake), Bruinkapel (Brown cobra), Koperkapel (Copper cobra)

Naja nivea
Population size
Life Span
12-20 yrs
1-1.4 m

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 Cobra habitat map


Climate zones

Habits and Lifestyle

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.

Seasonal behavior

Diet and Nutrition

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.

Mating Habits

at birth
8-20 eggs

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.


Population threats

There no major threats to the Cape cobra at present.

Population number

The Cape cobra population number is unavailable at present from open sources and its conservation status has not been evaluated.

Ecological niche

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.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • The Cape cobra is also known as the "geelslang" (yellow snake) and "bruinkapel" (brown cobra) in South Africa. Afrikaans speaking South Africans also refer to the Cape cobra as "koperkapel" ("copper cobra"), mainly because of a rich yellow colour variation.
  • The generic name of the Cape cobra 'naja' is a Latinisation of the Sanskrit word nāgá meaning "cobra". The name 'nivea' is derived from the Latin words either 'nix' or 'nivis' meaning 'snow' or 'niveus' meaning 'snowy' or 'snow-white'. The connection with snow is unclear but might have been suggested by discoloration of the first preserved specimens received by taxonomists in Europe.
  • Cape cobras are regarded as one of the most dangerous species of cobra in all of Africa, by virtue of their potent venom and frequent occurrence around houses. The venom of these snakes tends to be thick and syrupy in consistency and dries into shiny pale flakes.


1. Cape Cobra on Wikipedia -

More Fascinating Animals to Learn About