Naja nivea (Cape cobra, Yellow cobra)

Kaapse geelslang, Koperkapel, Geelkapel, Bruinkapel [Afrikaans]; isiKhotsholo, umDlambila ?, uDlezinye, umDlezinye [Xhosa]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Tetrapoda (four-legged vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Reptilia (reptiles) > Romeriida > Diapsida > Lepidosauromorpha > Lepidosauria > Squamata > Serpentes (snakes) > Family: Elapidae > Genus: Naja

Yellow form of Cape cobra, Western Cape. [photo K. Hopkins, J. Measey, K. Tolley , from SARCA Virtual Museum]

Cape cobra, Western Cape. [photo J.C. Els , from SARCA Virtual Museum

Cape cobra, Western Cape. [photo J.C. Els , from SARCA Virtual Museum]


The Cape cobra has a wide colour variation ( varies from a golden yellow to an almost black colour); however  a juvenile specimen can be identified by a brown band on their hood. The snake is most easily identified by its particularly aggressive defensive posture which it adopts at the slightest provocation. This snake is also noted for being highly active and very fast moving. It reaches an average length of 1.2 meters but can reach 2 meters.

Distribution and habitat

This species' distribution is restricted to the Western Cape, Eastern Cape, Northern Cape, Free State, Botswana and Namibia. its primarily inhabits dry sandy areas ( e.g. the Karoo) , semi-urban areas ( e.g. informal settlements), disused termite mounds or rodent burrows and has been seen climbing trees.  


Prey consists mainly of rodents (e.g. rats and mice) but also includes lizards, other snakes, frogs and toads. It also eats birds, particularly young birds and eggs in nests. For instance, it preys extensively on Sociable weavers.

Predators, parasites and disease

This snake is primarily eaten by Herpistidae (e.g. meerkats and mongooses), honey badgers, birds of prey (particularly secretary birds and snake eagles), It also common for it to be preyed on by other snakes  (including its own species). 


Mating takes place between September and October , females lay their eggs between December and January , They normally lay between 8 and 20 eggs in a suitable underground cavity such as a termite mound or rodent burrow. 


It has a relatively long life span (one specimen in San Diego Zoo lived for over 15 years).

Medical importance

Has a very powerful and fast acting neurotoxic venom , It is in fact more powerful than any other cobra venom in  Africa. A bite from a Cape cobra is life threatening and is a medical emergency (it is responsible for the majority of snake-bite-related fatalities in its range). It is however important to note there is an anti-venom which although required in large amounts is very effective.



  • Broadley, D.G. 1983. FitzSimons' Snakes of Southern Africa. Delta Books, Johannesburg.

  • Marais, J. 2004. A Complete Guide to Snakes of Southern Africa. Struik Publishers, Cape Town.


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