“Hannibal the Cannibal lives in the Kalahari” stated a headline in one of local newspapers. NN011, now better known as “Hannibal”, has been the face of several articles this week that covered our newly published work in the journal Ecology.
Maritz, B., Alexander, G., and R. Maritz. The underappreciated extent of cannibalism and ophiophagy in cobras. Ecology DOI: 10.1002/ecy.2522.
The idea for the study originated after we encountered “Hannibal” feasting on a conspecific during fieldwork at Tswalu Kalahari Reserve in 2017. We were inspired by the fortuitous observation and decided to look into how common this behaviour is amongst Cape cobras and their cobra relatives. In doing so, we conducted a major review of the diets of southern African cobras (Naja spp.) and revealed that cobras are highly ophiophagous (snake-eaters) and that cannibalism is likely to occur more often than we once believed.
This observation and our follow-up study reminded us just how important fieldwork is for improving our understanding of the natural world. It is through field observations that new ideas are sparked, hypotheses are challenged, and more questions are created. There is no substitute for time spent in the field, and natural history observations are still a necessary part of advancing our understanding of biology.
Our work on Cape cobras is part of a long-term project based at Tswalu Kalahari Reserve that is conducted in collaboration with Prof Graham Alexander at Wits University.
Here are a few links of the press we’ve received:
UWC Faculty News: Cannibalism among Cape cobras
National Geographic Cannibal cobras: Male snakes eat each other shockingly often
News24: The curious case of ‘Hannibal’, the Cape cobra cannibal
IFL Science: A snake nicknamed “Hannibal helped reveal cannibalism is common in cobras