Eastwood king cobra snake sanctuary a 'safety net'

A Nottinghamshire man is keeping a collection of 20 adult and four juvenile king cobras in a compound behind his house in the former mining village of Eastwood.

"I am maintaining this breeding colony of king cobras as a safety net - to protect the species from possible extinction," said snake-breeder Luke Yeomans.

"Until mankind changes the way he treats the natural world, a living ark is required for the survival of many animal species."

It is the only such breeding colony in Europe, according to Mr Yeomans.

The 47-year-old started the project in 2008, in reaction to the depletion of the snake's natural habitat in the forests of south-east Asia and India.

He plans to breed another 100 snakes by the end of 2011.

Mr Yeomans said he was opening the King Cobra Sanctuary to the public on 2 July to educate people about the world's longest venomous snake.

Cannibalistic snakes

The snake expert said he had always been obsessed with snakes, catching his first adder at the age of seven and sharing his bedroom with a collection of gaboon vipers and Indian cobras in his teens.

At the age of 16 he opened his first pet shop, specialising in snakes and other reptiles.

Two years on he started to breed his own.

"I was very unhappy with some of the imported snakes as they were dehydrated and covered in parasites.

"Back in the early 1980s, breeding snakes was a rare event but there was a handful of enthusiasts in the UK and USA making headway and we shared what we learnt."

He said the current programme's success was largely down to the way he introduced the female to the male.

"King cobras are cannibalistic snakes. To get a pair together without cannibalism is difficult. You need to get the female in with the male without her showing signs of aggression."

Mr Yeomans' fascination for the king cobra came from studying it in its natural environment, working with herpetologist and wildlife conservationist Rom Whitaker.

Mr Whitaker founded of the Agumbe Rainforest Research Station in India in 2005, a centre dedicated to the conservation of the snake and its habitat.

The king cobra is one of the most dangerous snakes to inhabit the forests of Asia and is reputed to be able to kill an elephant.

Mr Yeomans compared his passion for snakes with other people's obsessions with fast cars.

"People do say that I am mad but I say it's better than people saying you're bad. I think everything I am doing is good," he said.

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