This corner of Asia is famed for its soaring mountains, frenetic cityscapes, spicy food, and rich Islamic history and culture. But it’s also a bit of a wildlife hotspot, and there are oodles of both non-venomous and dangerous snakes in Pakistan that we think any nature lover heading to the country should know about.
This guide will run through five of the most fascinating and intriguing serpent specimens in the nation. It will talk mainly about some of the most venomous snakes in Pakistan – the ones you’ll want to avoid between the trekking trails of Balochistan and the streets of Karachi. But we’ll also touch on a few of the amazing non-venomous types of slitherer that make their home here
The good news is that there aren’t all that many highly venomous snakes in Pakistan compared to other parts of Asia, and injuries from snakebites remain pretty rare in the country, especially when compared to neighboring India! That means the creatures listed below shouldn’t pose too much of a threat during that jaunt to the Hindu Kush or the Karakorum Highway. But it’s worth knowing about them nonetheless, don’t you think?
Common krait (Bungarus caeruleus)
The common krait, also known as the Bengal krait, has the dubious honor of being among the so-called Big Four. That’s a quad of different snake species who are attributed with biting – and killing – the highest number of humans per year in India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan combined. And it’s actually among the worst of those four – some estimations have it that over 50% of snakebite deaths in this region of South Asia are attributable this snake alone!
So, what are you looking for? Well…it might be tricky to spot them. Common kraits are usually strictly nocturnal and extremely shy of human contact. They also don’t have any strikingly stark colorings. Most adult kraits are black or dark brown with light white streaks flowing all the way from the neck to the tail. They can grow to anything between a full meter in length and nearly two meters, but are typically closer to the 1.2-meter mark.
What makes the common krait so dangerous in Pakistan is its penchant for entering human habitation. That usually occurs towards the end of the monsoon season, when the species attempts to flee flowing water in the forests and streets. They’ve even been known to reside in homes and garages and emerge at night, biting victims in their sleep and killing them before they even wake up!
Common kraits have an extremely potent venom that works to induce almost complete muscle paralysis. It’s made up mainly of neurotoxins that affect the proper operation of the nervous system, eventually causing complete lung failure or heart failure. Bites from these guys are notable for not causing big local symptoms – there’s often no swelling or bleeding to be seen at the site of contact with the fangs.
Russel’s viper (Daboia russelii)
The Russel’s viper is another of the Big Four killers of South Asia. This one mainly lives in India. In fact, it’s range covers the WHOLE of the sub-continent, from the waters of the Bay of Bengal to the mountains of the Western Ghats. However, it also has some territory in Bangladesh, Bhutan, and Nepal, and occurs all down the sides of eastern Pakistan, from Kashmir to the estuaries of the Keti Bunder.
Sometimes called the common Russell’s viper and the chain snake, this species is from the viper family. That means it sports a trademark triangular head that’s flat on top and comes to a point where large nostrils give way to very large fangs (that’s the bit you don’t want to get close to, just in case you were wondering!). The body will measure a maximum of about 1.5 meters, while specimens found in Pakistan are usually a touch smaller than that. The coloring can vary a lot, ranging from pinkish red to dark brown. However, there is one discerning marking on the head, forming a clear V-shape above the eyes, usually in light tan or beige.
Russel’s viper venom is almost as deadly as it comes. Victims will begin feeling immense pain at the site of contact, usually backed up by uncontrollable bleeding. That can develop into irreparable tissue damage, blood in the mouth, and unpredictable swings in blood pressure. Death can occur anytime between 12 hours and 15 days after the bite, either from organ failure of poisoning of the blood stream.
Thankfully, there’s a pretty effective antivenin treatment available for use after Russel’s viper bites, plus an all-new experimental antivenin that’s thought to be even more effective than its predecessors. Still, the best course of action is complete avoidance of this snake, especially since they are known to be overly aggressive whenever threatened. Just keep your distance!
Rough-scaled sand boa (Eryx conicus)
The rough-scaled sand boa is the first non-venomous critter among our selection of snakes in Pakistan. That’s a fact that’s led to it being prized among herpetologists and amateur snake keepers, and it’s been said that the trade in this particular serpent is so high today that it’s now listed as Near Threatened by the IUCN.
There’s no doubting that they are an intriguing and fascinating snake. First off, they are rather beefy customers, measuring a whole meter in length but sporting a fat central body that tapers considerably to the head. Second, scientists have observed that their camo and patterning closely resembles the aforementioned Russel’s viper, which is now thought to be a form of Batesian mimicry, where one species has adapted to look a lot like a more dangerous species in order to fend off potential predators.
Rough-scaled sand boas, just as the name implies, are mainly adapted to living in arid regions. They are found all across northern India and as far south as the dry parts of northern Sri Lanka. In Pakistan, they are mainly limited to the southern and eastern parts of the nation, but aren’t thought to be present up in the cooler, higher reaches of the mountains around Kashmir.
King cobra (Ophiophagus hannah)
There’s big disagreement among scientists and zoologists as to whether the infamous king cobra, one of the deadliest snakes in the world, is found in Pakistan. It’s not officially present in the country, though a spate of recent sightings and encounters have led experts to re-evaluate if climate change is moving this particular serpent’s territory a little further north than India and Southeast Asia, where it’s most commonly found.
Capable of growing up to six meters from head to tail – yep, a full six meters! – this snake is one monstrous customer. It’s among the largest elapid snakes on the globe and also boasts one of the most fatal bites in the animal kingdom. Mhmm…cobra venom isn’t something you’d want to tangle with. It’s known to cause severe holistic symptoms and can cause death in adult humans in as little as 12 hours. Yikes!
The good news is that the king cobra only occupies very specific corners of Pakistan if it’s even here at all. And they are parts of the nation that tourists very rarely visit. Yep, the current research points to the feared snake living on the lush slopes of the Bagh District, a part of Azad Kashmir and a region that’s sort of out of bounds to travelers because of military upheavals in the last couple of decades.
Asian rock python (Python molurus)
We wouldn’t want a run in with the Asian rock python – that’s for sure. They aren’t venomous and aren’t considered particularly deadly to humans. But they are MASSIVE. Like, among the biggest snakes in the whole world sort of massive…
We’re talking an average length of three whole meters across, and the potential to be even more than that. Some individuals measured in India’s Keoladeo National Park, which isn’t that far from Pakistan, clocked up over 3.3 meters in length, while the record for the longest Asian rock python ever found in Pakistan itself is a whopping 4.6 meters! Wowza.
The coloring of these colossal members of the snake world differs a lot depending on where you find them. Some can be light brown and tan all the way along. Others can appear darker, sporting mahogany browns, dusky blacks, and coffee tones. They usually have a very clear camo pattern that’s formed by circles and light-brown lines, all of which helps them blend in with their favorite habitats of open forest and wooded river valleys.
As we’ve mentioned, the Asian rock python is, thankfully, totally non-venomous. They are, however, big meat eaters and tackle prey through a double-knot constriction method that suffocates and squeezes creatures to death. They also have backwards-facing teeth orientations that help to keep anything they eat firmly on the inside their mouth.
Our list of non-venomous and dangerous snakes in Pakistan – a conclusion
There are quite a few species of dangerous snakes in Pakistan to know about as a traveler. This guide picks out just a handful, including some of the most venomous species of all – think the Russel’s viper and the common krait, along with the uber-deadly king cobra. We’ve also taken a look at some of the most striking non-venomous critters, like the Asian rock python (which is certainly dangerous to the prey it manages to wrap around) and the well-camouflaged sand boa.