Old Blackie

Old Blackie the black-lipped cobra slithered into posterity as the oldest living snake in a zoo.
  • 1950s

You know you’re something special when the competitor you vanquish is an anaconda! Such was the feat accomplished by Old Blackie, the Zoo’s African black-lipped cobra. Prior to Old Blackie, the record for snake longevity was firmly in the grip of a 28-year-old anaconda at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. But as of October of 1956, Old Blackie reached that milestone—and kept going.

Being “top snake” was familiar territory for Old Blackie. As was noted in that month’s ZOONOOZ: “Championship is nothing new for Old Blackie. For several years this reptile has held the longevity record for the oldest living cobra of any species. Oddly enough, its oldest competitor is an African black-necked cobra that has been living at the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago, Illinois, for the past 23 years.”

Alas, everyone’s time comes, and in the case of Old Blackie, that “time” was late November in 1957. Papers across the country reported the death of Old Blackie, who died at 29. How did he live so long? Charles E. Shaw, the San Diego Zoo’s curator of reptiles at the time, thought it had a lot to do with life in a zoo. As such, he wrote, these snakes “are free from the rigorous life of searching for its food, and in competing with other predatory animals for its existence. It runs no danger of losing its life by becoming overheated or caught in a sudden freeze. Neither is it exposed to the same risks of parasitism to which its less fortunate cousins in the wild are subjected… life may be said to be a cushy one, relatively speaking.”

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