“Snake on the loose!” were the headlines in Raleigh, North Carolina in the summer of 2021. Not just any snake, but a venomous spitting cobra that can spit a stream of venom 9 feet! Clearly a threat to the public, but also to authorities that had to figure out how to locate and trap the loose snake. How did a spitting cobra get lose in Raleigh? How long did it take to catch it? Did anyone get sprayed by venom? How did Raleigh Officials catch a venomous spitting cobra?
What is a Spitting Cobra?
Spitting cobras are a group of cobras that have the ability to spit a strong spray of venom as a defense mechanism. Some can spry their venom 9 feet or more! They aim for the face, targeting the eyes with extremely painful venom. Spitting cobras can also bite like other venomous snakes releasing their venom with their sharp fangs. There are around 20 different spitting cobra species including the Mozambique spitting cobra, Equatorial spitting cobra and Red spitting cobra. They do not live in the United States but live in the tropical areas of Africa and Asia.
How Did a Spitting Cobra Get Loose in Raleigh, NC?
On June 28, 2021, the local police got a phone call from a woman saying she saw an unusual looking snake on her front porch. She thought it might be an Australian python; it was definitely an exotic looking snake. She snapped some photos of it and showed them to authorities. They identified it as a zebra cobra, a black and white striped spitting cobra from Angola and Namibia. It turns out the zebra cobra was the pet of a local resident, Christopher Gifford. He kept 75 snakes and lizards in the basement of his parent’s home where he lived. He showcased the animals on his social media accounts including handling some of the venomous snakes. Gifford is not sure how the snake escaped, but he made the mistake of not reporting the snake missing, putting people at risk.
How Long Before Raleigh Officials Caught a Venomous Spitting Cobra?
Authorities alerted the public about the risk of the snake in the area along Sandringham Drive. The police teamed up with animal control to develop a plan for locating and catching the dangerous snake. Zebra snakes are around 4 feet long and a medium-build, so there are plenty of places they can hide. The snake was on the loose for three days before a news reporter ran into it. She immediately reported it to the police. The snake got away before animal control could get there but they now had a location of where to narrow their search. Later that day, the spitting cobra was finally caught and the people of Raleigh could feel safe getting their mail again.
How Raleigh Officials Caught a Venomous Spitting Cobra
If you have a group of officers and animal control folks patrolling the streets on foot, looking for a 4-foot venomous snake, you could have one of the officers come around the corner of a home, startle the spitting cobra and end up with the officer being sprayed in the face with highly toxic venom. So this was no easy task!
A news reporter for WNCN news actually did come “face to face” with the cobra, but was able to back away without incident. Judith Retana alerted the authorities which brought in animal control with a unique tactic to catch the snake. They laid out glue strips around the area they thought the snake was hiding. It worked! The curious snake got stuck to the glue strip allowing animal control to go in and secure the snake. They probably bandied its mouth shut to prevent spitting or biting. They were then able to bring the snake to a safe place and apply mineral oil to the glue strip releasing the snake unharmed.
Did Anyone Get Attacked by the Snake While it Was on the Loose?
No, thankfully no one was injured during the time the snake was on the loose. None of the police officers or animal control workers were attacked, sprayed or bitten. The risk really was quite high due to the fact that the zebra cobra can spit its venom from 9 feet away and cause severe blistering of the skin. If the venom is sprayed in your eyes it can cause blindness. They can also bite delivering a cocktail of potentially deadly venom. It is a good thing it did not take too long for Raleigh Officials to catch a venomous spitting cobra!
Can you Legally Own Venomous Snakes in North Carolina?
Yes. It is legal to own venomous snakes in North Carolina, but you have to follow a few guidelines. The enclosures need to be labeled, the enclosures need to be escape proof and if a venomous pet does escape you must notify authorities immediately! Christopher Gifford did not follow these requirements. Authorities removed 75 animals (snakes and lizards) form his property and fined him $13,000 in restitution to cover the costs of the search, rescue and extra patrols during the snakes adventure. The zebra snake was successfully removed from the glue strip without incident and was relocated to an undisclosed safe home.
What Happened a Week Later in Louisiana?
A week after the spitting cobra incident, a 12-foot long, 150-pound Burmese Python got loose from the Blue Zoo Aquarium in Baton Rouge! A little different story since Burmese Pythons are not venomous and locating a 150-pound snake seems a little easier than a 4-foot cobra. However, the snake went missing on Tuesday and it took authorities until Thursday to finally locate the snake and bring it back to the zoo safely. They used infrared goggles to search at night and brought in HVAC and plumbing crew to search areas that the snake might have snuck into. The python, named Cara, was found in a crawl space in the mall and seemed unharmed. This is probably not the last of the “Snake on the loose!” stories we will read!
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