Unveiling the Secret Life of Africa’s Infamous Crowing Crested Cobra

Snakes have long been a source of fear for many people. And deep in the heart of Africa, there is quite possibly a snake that few have ever encountered, and even fewer have survived to tell the tale.



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Whether it be the Biblical imagery of a conniving, mischievous serpent, the very real possibility of getting bitten while trudging through the rainforest, or turning over one too many rocks while out foraging, snakes have long been a source of fear for many people. And deep in the heart of Africa, there is quite possibly a snake that few have ever encountered, and even fewer have survived to tell the tale. Its name is whispered with hushed fear among the local tribes, and for good reason. To hear its crowing cries could be the difference between life and death just moments before it jumps out with its sharpest fangs and most life-threatening venom. 

The snake in question? The Crowing Crested Cobra. 

According to Central African folklore, the Crowing Crested Cobra isn’t your average, ordinary venomous snake. Believed to reside in multiple African nations, such as Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Malawi, its distinctive and uncommon physical characteristics set it apart from other reptilian creatures. While many African snakes have brownish, black skin like the black mamba, its namesake is partly due to the maroon-colored crest upon its head resembling a rooster’s comb. 

But its looks aren’t the only mysterious thing about it. Its name also has to do with its apparent ability to crow like a rooster. Well, really, only the males sound like roosters, and the females sound is described more like a clucking hen, but I digress. Oh yeah, and it’s also said to grow to lengths of over 20 feet, emits a foul odor right before it attacks, and on top of all that, it’s said that it can kill with just one look of its menacing-looking eyes. And rather than hiding beneath rocks and boulders in the African heat, the Crowing Crested Cobra instead lays dormant upon branches of trees, simply awaiting its next victim. 

With its voracious appetite, this slithery serpent is capable of spitting its venom over long distances, making it a formidable predator. Not only is it capable of spitting long distances, it’s also said that its venom is so potent that it can cause serious harm to both humans and animals. Not only can its venom cause sudden blindness, locals also attribute this cobra with “delivering a fatal dose of venom with just one bite,” leaving its victim “dead within seconds”. 

Now, we can all agree that snakes can be scary business, with many a fatal bite. But a snake that resembles a rooster with a similar call? Maybe this seems a little too far-fetched. I mean, we don’t really have photos of this wild snake, much less bones to show for it. How can we be sure of its existence? Well, we may not have photos, but what we do have are various journal entries, and stories told right from African natives. 


This slithery cryptid was first introduced by David Livingstone, a well-respected 19th-century Scottish Physician, Missionary, and Explorer. Throughout his various expeditions in Africa, David often documented various animals, tribes, and cultures, often sharing the rich history of the locals. Most famously known for “his account of the Nyangwe Massacre [that] caused a public outcry in Britain, [forcing] the British government to act” on their behalf. Because of this, “the Sultan of Zanzibar sighed a treaty which abolished the East African slave trade in 1873”. 

Talk about making history. 

But perhaps another one of his discoveries may be lesser known and quite possibly less accepted in the research community. During one of his explorations, a local native named Abdullah Susi first introduced him to a mysterious yet deadly snake known as the Crowing Crested Cobra. 

In his journal, David wrote: “Susi, to whom this snake is known in the Shupanga tongue as “Bubu,” describes it as about twelve feet long, dark in colour, of a dirty blue under the belly, with red markings like the wattles of a cock on the head. The Arabs go so far as to say that it is known to oppose the passage of a caravan at times. Twisting its tail round a branch, it will strike one man after another in the head with fatal certainty. Their remedy is to fill a pot with boiling water, which is put on the head and carried under the tree! The snake dashes his head into this and is killed—the story is given for what it is worth”.

What’s more, is that this wasn’t the only recording of this serpent. Livingstone goes on to share in other journal entries of this peculiar species sharing its ability to crow like a rooster. He even recounts a young girl living in Mozambique who died in its vicious attack. It’s also worth mentioning that Livingstone wasn’t the only person to discuss such findings. 

British clergyman and Anglican missionary Chauncy Maples had been exploring Nyasaland, Africa (which is now known as Malawi) when he wrote an entry dating back to 1891. Here, he mentioned a “crested mamba” known to the locals as the “mwikoma”. 

In his words, “The chief facts about the “mamba” are these: it deliberately pursues and attacks man, lying in wait for him; its bite is most deadly, and in a very few hours its victim is dead. It is about twelve feet long and has a kind of crest like a cock’s comb on its head; it also makes a noise resembling the crowing of a cock; it haunts rocks and is also found in the forest. If one is ever met with near one of the paths, that path is at once deserted, and with no undue reason, for this snake is known to oppose whole caravans, killing, one after another, all who attempt to pass by the tree or other position where it may have for the time taken up its quarters. This “mamba” is by no means uncommon about here, and the hill near where Mr. Porter’s house stands is its favourite haunt.”

So once again, we’ve got yet another explorer sharing similar stories of a mythical serpent. And in 1910, another account was shared by a South African herpetologist named Walter Rose, where he wrote about the Crowing Crested Cobra in his book, Reptiles and Amphibians of Southern Africa. Though this account describes the snake as more turkey-like in nature, nonetheless just as fearsome. Not to mention later in the 1920s, Thomas Nash, an entomologist, someone who studies insects, also shared his reports from a villager in Tanzania. 

The villager, Tanganyika, shares that “Abdullah, my father, killed the snake and saw its cock’s comb. Truly he was a brave man, my father. Often he would tell the tale of how he passed along the path frequented by this terrible snake with a bowl of steaming porridge on his head: how the snake had suddenly shot its great head out of its hole high up in a dead tree, and had struck at his head: how the jaws plunged into the scalding porridge and the snake dropped onto the path, writhing and twisting in its last death agony”.

And then we have a Nairobi Medical Officer in the 1940s who claimed to have physical evidence of this menacing creature. 

In his book, Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology, Vol. 2, written by George M. Eberhart, the author highlights these supposed Crowing Crested Cobra findings. John Owen Shircore, or J.O. for short, published an article in 1944 about the unique features of an unknown snake skeleton he had found. 

The remnants included a “five-boned cockscomb that still had bits of red flesh attached to it as well as rib bones similar to those found in the flexible hoods of regular cobras.” In George’s book, he highlights that J.O. also had a few neck bones and several vertebrae from at least two different specimens of this snake. Although researchers and scientists alike initially dismissed his findings, he continued to press the issue. A few years later, J.O. had possessed yet two more snake skeletons that shared similar features from the previous findings, including the boxy cockscomb, preserved flesh, and cobra hood rib bones. 

But even still, researchers simply raised their eyebrows in disbelief and never properly examined his findings or took his accusations seriously. With this dismissal, nothing ever really came of the newspaper article. But, nearly 15 years later, in May of 1959, hushed whispers of the legendary Crowing Crested Cobra were reprised when a man had reportedly run one over while driving home.

In his Land Rover, John Knott was driving around the Lake Kariba area of Zimbabwe when he spotted a large snake crossing the road a few feet ahead. After realizing he had run over it, John put his car in park and hopped out of the vehicle to get a closer look. As he was slowly making his way, not wanting to aggravate it had it somehow survived, he got down on his knees and leaned over. Later, he would describe this dead snake as being nearly 7ft long, black in color, and lo and behold, a red crest sitting atop its head, appearing to have 5 spikes within it. Although this particular finding may seem interesting to you and I amidst all the speculation, it didn’t appear to interest John Knott as he simply got back in his car and continued on his way. No big deal. 


So, where does this leave us now? What exactly is the Crowing Crested Cobra? Is it real, is it a myth? Do the stories of African natives account for anything? Or do we take these stories with a grain of salt? Did John know about this infamous snake before he ran it over, or did he follow the belief that any good snake is a dead one and simply move on with his life? 

And if J.O. really did have physical evidence, why didn’t anyone take him seriously? If you’re scratching your head on this one, you’re not alone. And while I don’t specifically have any answers to these questions, there are a few theories out there on what this mysterious serpent actually is. 

One of the most popular beliefs is that the Crowing Crested Cobra is simply a misidentification altogether. During the process of shedding skin, known as “ecdysis”, it’s quite common for reptiles to leave old skin attached. In fact, I’ve seen various videos of pet owners having to get tweezers and remove the dead skin around the eyes of their pet iguanas because it didn’t come off on its own. 

So because of this, many people believe that rather than having an actual head crest or cockscomb, this rather large snake simply just had dead skin still attached in an obscure manner. And given people’s general fear of snakes, it’s not that shocking that we would come up with yet another reason to be afraid of them. To me, this makes a bit of sense. But what I’m still having a hard time wrapping my brain around is the crowing noise it makes right before it bites its victims. 

To that, many people ascribe to the idea that what they’re supposedly hearing is really the noise of a different animal being attacked and eaten by something else, such as the infamous Black Mamba. What’s more is that scientists have documented Bornean cave racers, otherwise known as Beauty Snakes, which are long, thin, semi-arboreal species of snakes that live in the eastern and southwestern regions of Asia, do, in fact make strange noises when they slither about. 

According to Author and Cryptozoologist Karl Shuker, he writes that:

“Quite apart from their coxcomb and wattles, the crowing crested cobra and its West Indian equivalents have received very short shrift from mainstream zoologists on account of their decidedly unsnake-like ability to crow. This is because snakes are famous for their apparently restricted vocal abilities, generally being deemed incapable of uttering more than a sibilant hiss due to their larynx lacking vocal cords. In reality, however, this widely-held assumption has been soundly disproved by a number of different species. The most famous of these is the North American bull snake Pituophis melanoleucus. This sturdy species expels air from its lungs through its glottis and against its epiglottis with such force that it emits a loud bovine grunt (earning it its name) audible up to 100 ft away. Equally, the king cobra emits deep growl-like hisses produced via pocket-like tracheal diverticula projecting out from its windpipe and acting as low-frequency resonance chambers. Moreover, contrary to another fondly-held tenet that snakes are totally deaf and unable to hear airborne sounds, research has confirmed that snakes are actually more sensitive to airborne than ground-borne sounds, and that the king cobra can definitely hear its own growls and those produced by others of its species.”

Okay, so I know that felt long-winded. But long story short, while many people believe that snakes can’t make grunting or growling noises, this is a false belief. According to Karl Shuker, it’s clear that snakes do have the ability to let out deep, growl-like hisses from both the North American bullsnake and the king cobra. 

In fact, in 1980, a man named Philip Chapman, who was working with Bristol’s City Museum, was exploring Borneo’s Melinau limestone cave system in Sarawak’s Gunung Mulu National Park. While walking through a dark, deep cave, he suddenly heard a strange yowling noise that sounded like it was coming from a large cat. When he shined his light toward its direction, he and his team found that these strange, feline meows were coming from a coiled-up snake below them, known as the Bornean cave racer. The reason for their strange calls? As they let out their shrill cries, they’re able to follow the echoes bouncing off the cave walls to lure prey closer to them. 

So while the Crowing Crested Cobra may be a figment of our imagination or an outlandish description of a large snake hanging dormant in trees, I guess it’s not too wild of an idea to think there really could be an unknown shrieking snake hiding amongst the shadows. 

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