Why Are Thai Soldiers Drinking Cobra Blood?

How do you rehydrate in the jungle? First, catch a cobra. Bizarre as that advice appears, it is actually part of an annual jungle survival programme held in Thailand and led by the US military.

Cobra Gold

Every year since 1982 the United States and Thailand have collaborated in a combined training exercise that includes civic assistance programmes in undeveloped regions of the host country.

Cobra Gold, as it is called, has grown to include not only the US Marines and Royal Thai Marines, but also Singapore, Japan, Indonesia, South Korea and Malaysia as full participants in the programme.

This year 30 countries were set to take part, some as partial participants, others as observers in what is Asia’s biggest military exercise and one of the largest in the Indo–Pacific region.

The US Marines official website summarises the purpose of Cobra Gold as seeking to

  • improve the capabilities of participating nations to plan and conduct combined and joint operations
  • build relationships among participating nations across the region
  • improve interoperability over a range of activities, including enhancing maritime security and responding to large-scale natural disasters

Jungle Survival

Cobra Gold 2018 took place from 13–23 February, involving a command post exercise, a field training exercise and a humanitarian civic assistance exercise.

The jungle survival techniques are passed on from highly trained Royal Thai Marine instructors.

How to capture a cobra has been included in jungle survival as a means to stay hydrated. The snake is decapitated and handed in turn to trainees who each drink its blood.

Gruesome though it may be, in a real-life scenario it could make the difference between emerging from the jungle or disappearing forever.

Of course, the jungle is a fertile place with fruit hanging from practically every other tree. Knowing which are edible and which are poisonous is a necessary skill for anyone hoping to survive without supplies.

Not so appetising are the lessons on how to eat insects. They may be popular fried snacks on market stalls in some Asian countries, but try telling that to anyone who is used to grabbing the bug spray the instant they see a spider.

There is indeed a wrong way and a right way to eat a spider, a scorpion and any other creepy crawly, whether or not its appearance is appealing to the palate – you start by getting rid of the fangs.

Other Activities

Besides the jungle training, Cobra Gold includes peace support and non-combatant evacuation operations with preparedness training for scenarios that include natural disasters and unexpected emergencies such as plane crashes.

Hopefully none of us will ever need any jungle survival skills, which is just as well since the vast majority of us will never take part in Cobra Gold or any army training programme, unless, of course, you are a Singaporean male who has to do National Service.

However, if you are someone who likes to be prepared for the worst case scenario, you might want to take a look at the SAS Guide to Jungle Survival – although we do not recommend attempting to catch a cobra.

Leave that to the professionals like Bear Grylls.

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