So I Found a Cobra in My Bedroom

SnakeI’m normally fairly sanguine about snakes. Well, about as sanguine as a Briton can be. We don’t really have snakes in Britain, by which I mean that few of us ever encounter one outside a zoo, and I’ve never heard of anyone seeing one in London, where I’m from.

Further, the snakes we do have won’t kill you. The adder is mildly venomous, and can cause unpleasant symptoms for which the NHS recommends 24-hour observation, but that’s about as bad as it gets – and, further, adders are terribly shy.

Bali, what with being in Indonesia, and tropical, has all sorts of exciting snakes, including several that can and do kill people. But, to be honest, our time in Asia has left me kind of blasé about snakes in general.

We’ve encountered a fair few of the things, whether hiking, wildlife-spotting or just going about our business, and the couple I’ve seen in our garden have done the decent thing and skedaddled sharpish the second I wandered up to them. In general, snakes are far more scared of you than you are of them.

There seems to be an odd protuberance below its diamond-shaped head, but it doesn’t look especially cobra-like. Not big enough, for starters. And aren’t cobras stripy? Or patterned?

I’m not entirely sure what I was looking for when I ambled, barefoot, as is the Bali way, from the verandah where I spend much of my time, into my bedroom. But it certainly wasn’t a snake. (Please do “insert” your own joke here).

Yet, there it is, a tiny little thing, not much wider than a marker pen at its widest point, and probably only 50cm long, coiled in the centre of my bedroom floor.

I pause. There seems to be an odd protuberance below its diamond-shaped head, but it doesn’t look especially cobra-like. Not big enough, for starters. And aren’t cobras stripy? Or patterned?

And then…

Well, then it rears up, looks at me with absolutely zero fear, and hisses.

Which is when, gentle reader, I back away quietly but extremely rapidly, and slam the bedroom door.

I have no idea, at this point, whether the snake in my bedroom is indeed a cobra – although its attitude strongly suggests it’s armed and dangerous – but the absolute last thing on my mind is photographing it and asking Facebook about it.

One of many, many mystifying things about the expat Facebook groups I frequent, partly as a source of information and partly – let’s be honest – as a form of digital blood sport, is the sheer range and variety of things which people will photograph and share on Facebook.

Mysterious rashes. Unsightly bites in inadequately manscaped areas, regions that oh-so-clearly rarely see the light of day and certainly shouldn’t see the light of social media, infections that clearly need the attention of one of Bali’s many doctors, or myriad pharmacists, rather than 30,000 strangers on Facebook…

And, more relevantly… snakes.



I have often wondered precisely what thought process leads one to shove a smartphone in a potentially lethal snake’s face and post on Facebook, rather than clear the area, stat. Having now experienced the strong, instinctual reaction which happens when a snake rears up and hisses, I am utterly mystified.

I have no idea, at this point, whether the snake in my bedroom is indeed a cobra – although its attitude strongly suggests it’s armed and dangerous – but the absolute last thing on my mind is photographing it and asking Facebook about it. My primeval brain is absolutely definite on the right thing to do in the circs, which is back away and shut the door.

I’m not QUITE sure what it is that makes me top my phone up in increments of 20,000 rupiah rather than spend, say, the price of a bottle of wine, and have phone credit for months on end, but I suspect it’s a misplaced sense of economy.

The next thing on my mind, of course, is Bali Reptile Rescue, whose splendid information poster I have sourced (like any good parent) and proceeded to bury in a pile of paper somewhere (like any good freelance writer.)

As so often, I am out of pulsa. (I’m not QUITE sure what it is that makes me top my phone up in increments of 20,000 rupiah rather than spend, say, the price of a bottle of wine, and have phone credit for months on end, but I suspect it’s a misplaced sense of economy.)

So I Skype call. Peter, the snake whisperer, answers. I explain.

“TEXT ME YOUR ADDRESS,” he bellows. “TEXT ME YOUR ADDRESS. ALAMAT. ALAMAT. ALAMAT.”

I text the details, pop to the shop, and buy some phone credit.

This will all be a little embarrassing, of course, if it’s just a humble tree snake, but I’m certainly not touching the thing, and I’d like it off the property for good. Ideally BEFORE Zac gets back from school.

It appears to be trying to escape. There’s a strange, wriggling block on the light that emerges from the crack between my bedroom door and the tiles.

There’s something remarkably discombobulating about sharing a space with a snake that may or may not be a cobra. I am, as is my way, failing to work through an over-ambitious to-do list, and am, naturally, compelled to share my unfolding drama on Twitter, where, somewhat to my disappointment, it fails to attract much interest.

Cobra dramas, like rabies dramas, are, it appears, ten-a-penny on Bali.

Time passes. Best practice is to keep an eye on the suspect snake, which I do, between failing to hone a pitch and failing to deal with email, and seeing whether anyone on Twitter cares about my possible, if very small, cobra. (They don’t.)

It appears to be trying to escape. There’s a strange, wriggling block on the light that emerges from the crack between my bedroom door and the tiles.



Oh fuck. I don’t know a great deal about snakes, but I do remember one Willard Price adventure where a tropical snake of some description – a mamba, if memory serves – flattens itself enough to squeeze through the gap in a car window.

Someone on Twitter points out that if it’s a small one, its mother may also be in the area. Perhaps a little belatedly, I put some shoes on, and endeavour to relax.

I mentally translate the time since the helper last came into pairs of dirty underwear potentially scattered across the floor, and resolve to be more tidy in future – a 14-year-old, male friend of Zac’s once observed of my boudoir “Don’t worry! Mine’s at least as bad as that!”

Peter, the snake man, seems remarkably unfazed as he rocks up on his motorbike, suspected cobras being all part of a day’s work for him. He’s 60ish, Australian and the living, breathing definition of an Old Asia Hand.

I’m terribly British and stiff upper lip. “Would you like a tea? Coffee? Water? No?! You sure?! Oh, yes! The snake! Yes, I’ve shut it in the bedroom. Over here. It looked a bit cobra-y, so I thought you might want to check it out. Probably isn’t, mind.”

Stood outside my bedroom door, as I mentally translate the time since the helper last came into pairs of dirty underwear potentially scattered across the floor, and resolve to be more tidy in future – a 14-year-old male friend of Zac’s once observed of my bedroom “Don’t worry! Mine’s at least as bad as that!” — Peter asks a few diagnostic questions. “What colour was it?”

“Dark green,” I say.

“Any pattern?”

“I don’t think so,” I say. “It’s very small, but, to be honest, the way it was behaving, I thought it was best just to get out, shut the door and call you.”

He removes a black cloth drawstring bag and two metal prong-y things from his backpack, puts his glasses on his head, and donning not so much as a pair of gloves, opens my bedroom door.

It rears up, hisses at him, and retreats into my jeans. In fact, if we’re technically accurate, it retreats into my jeans AND a pair of mercifully clean-seeming knickers.

I don’t really understand how people can feel affection for snakes (another friend of Zac’s has a pet lizard, which also mystifies me), but Peter clearly does.

“Oh, look at you!” he says to the snake, soothingly. “Aren’t you a beauty?”

Rather ungratefully, in my view, it rears up, hisses at him, and retreats into my jeans. In fact, if we’re technically accurate, it retreats into my jeans AND a pair of mercifully clean-looking knickers.

“So it is a cobra?” I ask, watching the, err, trousersnake from a safe distance yet emboldened by the fact that Peter’s a) right in the line of fire and b) not at all bothered.

“Oh, yes!” he says, enthusiastically. (Bali Reptile Rescue, while partly concerned with protecting people from snakes, is primarily engaged in protecting snakes from people.) “He’s a Javanese spitting cobra. About one year old.”

This is oddly pleasing. It would, I feel, have been embarrassing to have summoned the snake police for a perfectly innocent tree snake, or baby python, or whatever.

I recall, from my reading of his wonderful poster, before I lost it, what with not owning any Blu Tack and all, that spitting cobras are rather venomous. “Is the mother anywhere around?” I ask.

“Oh no,” he says. “They don’t stay with their babies. Not at all.”

Whew. Zac’s still at school, but we could really do without a bloody cobra’s nest.

The cobra rears and hisses. Peter seems more fondly amused by its spirit than disturbed by this in any way. “If it’s a spitting cobra,” I say tentatively. “Aren’t you worried about your eyes?”

The dance continues, Peter wheedling the snake towards the bag, rather as one might try to lure a cat into its travel cage.

“It’s a nice bag,” he says, soothingly. “Get in the nice bag! You want to get in the bag, don’t you? It’s a nice bag!”

The cobra rears and hisses. Peter seems more fondly amused by its spirit than disturbed by this in any way. “If it’s a spitting cobra,” I say tentatively. “Aren’t you worried about your eyes?”

Peter slips his glasses back down, and prods at the cobra with his metal prongs, encouraging it towards the bag.

It slithers out from under my jeans, and feints at the bag. “There you go,” he says. “Get in the nice bag! It’s a nice bag. You like the bag.”

The head goes in. The other prong goes under the tail. The bag comes up. And the cobra is in the bag!

Carefully, but matter-of-factly, Peter places the bag on the floor, shifts the prongs gradually down the bag to flatten it out and steer the cobra to the bottom of it, rolls it, seals it, and stashes it in his backpack. Job done!

“I removed four yesterday, and normally do about eight or ten a week. In fact, I’ve just come from Renon. There’s a nest in a government building there: twenty-six eggs, but I’ve only found eight babies so far.”

Out comes a replacement poster – I’m too embarrassed to mention that we already have one, but I’ve lost it – and Peter talks me through the treatment of snake bite.

In the case of a spitting cobra, which is deadly venomous, unlike the “bamboo viper” which is apparently a relative pussycat, despite expat lore, splinting and bandaging the wound and keeping it below heart level means you’ll retain consciousness for four to eight hours rather than the 30 minutes or so you have if you don’t treat it. (Which is, wherever you live on the island, easily time enough to get to Sanglah, the only hospital on Bali with antivenin.)

“So, do you get many of those in Bali?” I ask.

“Oh, yes,” Peter says cheerfully. “I removed four yesterday, and normally do about eight or ten a week. In fact, I’ve just come from Renon. There’s a nest in a government building there: twenty-six eggs, but I’ve only found eight babies so far.”

“Oh,” I say. “So… Are we more likely to get another one now we’ve already had one? Or is it more a case of lightning never strikes twice?” (Our well was, literally, struck by lightning on Christmas Day – fun fact!)



“Well,” he says. “Your place is quite snake-friendly.” (We’re by a little river, opposite some woodland, and have a garden rich in undergrowth, a fish pond, a pool and a substantial complement of delicious frogs and geckos.)

“Oh,” I say. “Yeah, I’ve seen a couple, but, you know, they looked like normal snakes and ran away. And they’ve never come into the house.”

“It’s the rainy season,” he says. “Snakes are just like people, really. They get cold and come indoors.”

Once a week, they do a run with the week’s snake catch, up to the national park in West Bali, near Gilimanuk. “There are bits of that park,” Peter remarks, with admirable understatement, “That you really don’t want to go into.”

Bali Reptile Rescue, it turns out, do quite impressive work. Once a week, they do a run with the week’s snake catch, up to the national park in West Bali, near Gilimanuk.

“There are bits of that park,” Peter remarks, with admirable understatement, “That you really don’t want to go into.”

I raise an eyebrow. “Oh,” he says. “We drop them a long way off the walking trails, in parts of the park that people just don’t visit.” (Top Bali travel tip! Stay on the trails in West Bali National Park.)

“What’s the biggest snake you’ve ever caught?” I ask.

“Well, the biggest one we’ve measured was a king cobra that was 5.3 metres long,” he says. (That’s some way over 17 feet, if you don’t speak metric.) “You don’t get them that size round your way, though.”

I shudder, and make him pace out the length. “It was mating. The other one was bigger, a LOT bigger,” he says, indicating a circumference the size of an enormous joint of beef. “But I looked at in the bamboo, and it looked at me, and I called my mate over, and we looked at it, and we just thought ‘nah’.”

So somewhere, out in far West Bali,a 6-metre king cobra is still roaming free. But, says Peter, when it comes to venom, size really doesn’t matter.


Bali Reptile Rescue are the absolute dons of snakes, not to mention monitor lizards if such things bother you. Anyone who lives on Bali should have their number – 0821 4638 0270 – and try not to lose their posters. You can donate to them using PayPal – just send donations to [email protected]

Oh, and I didn’t get a picture of the snake, which is a shame. The lead image, n396_w1150 is courtesy of the Biodiversity Heritage Library on Flickr’s Creative Commons.

4 Responses

  1. Pip says:

    That made my day. The closest I came to a snake was nearly stepping on two quite small pythons in India. I only looked down after my brain had been quietly screaming this park is famous for birds and SNAKES and maybe this path doesn’t lead to some pretty kingfishers.

    • Theodora says:

      Oh dear. Well, a park that is famous for birds would, of course, attract snakes to eat their eggs and young – nature is delightful, isn’t it? I almost stepped on what I’m fairly sure was a venomous one in Borneo, until Zac pointed it out to me. I didn’t look up the species, but it was very brightly coloured, and not remotely scared of us, which always suggests a snake is confident in its ability to handle aggressors.

  2. DarShan says:

    Great story Theodora! I met a fantastic Brit near Auroville India. He was the expert rattleshnake catcher that the locals would come to when they had a slithering buddy to expel. (He was also a “Healer”-extraordinaire.) He rat-proofed his gorgeous thatch roofed mansion with a 6-inch wide moat around his house that you had to step across (with goldfish to eat the mosquito larvae), and snake-proofed his house with gravel on each side of the moat (because snakes prefer not to writhe on gravel (can you blame them?). I cannot ever imagine myself being non-chant about snakes & spiders.

    • Theodora says:

      Well, I should say it’s the first venomous snake I’ve encountered in Bali. Seen a few jungle trekking in Indonesia, but that’s the closest I’ve come to one – and our spiders aren’t venomous… Theodora