Malaysia's 'Snake King' Killed by Cobra

ByLindsay Hamilton

Dec. 2, 2006 — -- Ali Khan Samsuddin was known as the "King of the Snakes" until one ferocious cobra decided it was time for a coup.

Malaysia's most famous snake charmer put on daring shows, going so far as to kiss his deadly reptiles. Over the years, many snakes sank their fangs into him. He suffered his first king cobra bite when he was 21 years old. His last king cobra bite happened on Tuesday. He died three days later at Kuala Lumpur Hospital at age 48.

When it came to working with dangerous creatures, Samsuddin liked pushing the limits. He set records few would even want to attempt -- living in a glass case with 5,000 scorpions for 21 days, and living with 400 snakes for 40 days.

Samsuddin's death comes just days after a trainer at Sea World was dragged underwater by an orca, and months after a sting ray killed Australia's beloved "Crocodile Hunter," Steve Irwin.

The high-profile animal incidents beg the question: Just when and why do animals attack?

Dan Stockdale, an animal trainer and leadership guru who has worked with exotic creatures since 1978, says most animal attacks stem from three causes -- food, fear and sex.

Regarding the recent attacks, Stockdale says it is important to look at each as an individual case.

Irwin's death was mostly a matter of coincidence. The popular Animal Planet host was known for getting alarmingly close to dangerous crocodiles, but it was a stingray that took his life. He was filming for his daughter's TV show when the ray's barb pierced his chest.

"That happened out of the fear response, the stingray was startled by his presence," Stockdale says. "That tail response was involuntary. Steve and his body happened to be in the wrong position at the wrong time."

Jack Hanna, shocked by Irwin's death, said "it's like me getting killed by a poodle."

As opposed to the scared stingray, it seems Kasatka, the orca at Sea World San Diego, was not afraid when he attacked -- just cranky. The whale had a fight with another whale that morning and was likely in a sour mood. Kasatka grabbed the trainer, Ken Peters, by the foot and pinned him to the bottom of the pool. Peters' foot is broken, but he will be fine.

"Some mornings, they just wake up not as willing to do the show as others," Ken Balcomb, the director of the Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbor, Wash., told the AP. "If the trainer doesn't recognize it's not a good day, this will happen."

Sea World's shows continued and the whale likely will be allowed to perform again.

The Snake King's case had less to do with the creatures, and more to do with the man. Samsuddin took major risks. While Irwin approached and handled animals, and Sea World trains massive whales for shows, Ali Khan put his lips right up to the fangs of the beast.

"You would not see most trainers put themselves in that kind of situation." Stockdale says. "That's foolishness."

Despite the dangers, Stockdale sees great value in working with wild animals.

"I think it is extremely important that there are those that are willing to take some risk and get the message out there for conservation purposes, if nothing else," he says. "Think about the millions and millions of people around the world that developed a passion or a better understanding of our environment because Irwin was willing to take some risks."

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