Just over a week ago, a zebra cobra, considered one of the most dangerous snakes in the animal kingdom, was spotted on someone’s porch in Raleigh, NC. Authorities say the venomous creature escaped its home, putting virtually everyone in the community at risk.
Luckily, there was a doctor in the house. Ben German, an emergency room physician at WakeMed, helped scoop up the snake before anyone was hurt.
Snake on the Loose
The snake belongs to 21-year-old Christopher Gifford, a notable wildlife handler with nearly 500,000 followers on TikTok. His videos show him handling all kinds of poisonous snakes, including rattlesnakes, Gaboon vipers, and a green mamba, in his home in Raleigh, putting them in containers for transport, and unleashing fresh shipments into his backyard, which he shares with his parents.
According to North Carolina law, it’s perfectly legal to own a poisonous snake as long as it remains contained. The cage needs to be locked and labeled with a set of emergency instructions, should it escape. However, wildlife experts say keeping these creatures confined is often easier said than done. Some states, such as Florida, also require snakes to be kept in an escape-proof room.
Unfortunately, one of Gifford’s snakes managed to escape.
The zebra cobra was first spotted on a neighbor’s porch on Monday, June 28th, a half-mile away from Gifford’s house. The authorities had been searching for it, to no avail. It was again spotted at the same house just two days later. That’s when the city’s animal control staff and professional snake catchers moved in to assist.
A Brave Capture
Dr. Ben German heard about the news on Monday, but figured someone would probably catch it soon. He’s treated more than his fair share of snake bites in the ER at WakeMed. As an avid snake enthusiast, he even went to Asia to capture a snake himself.
When the snake was spotted again on Wednesday, German offered his services to the professionals. “When I got there, it kinda became apparent that I was one of the only people there who had experience with cobras in the wild,” he told a local news outlet.
German says the snake was initially “holed up in a really inaccessible area behind a brick porch.” It had delved deep into the ground so that you couldn’t even see it with a flashlight.
The team observed the snake for some time until they could come up with a plan.
“I know a lot of people were frustrated because it looked like people were just standing around and watching the snake, but it was in a very inaccessible area where you couldn’t see it,” German said.
They noticed it would periodically emerge from its lair. “The plan that the animal control and other professional snake persons on scene came up with, was to wait for the snake to reemerge and then they had a plan to capture it.”
German says the experts, including Jen Davis, an EMS with a background in animal control, were smart to wait for the snake to make the first move. “I know that is kinda frustrating to people sometimes, but sometimes patience is the best plan,” he said.
Davis decided to set up glue traps around the porch to make sure the snake couldn’t get back in once it emerged. It was around 8:30 PM when the snake started moving around. Before long, it caught a glue trap, giving the authorities a chance to catch it before it could get away.
“We used snake tongs to take the glue trap with the snake and get it into a bucket. Then it became a matter of getting the snake off the glue trap,” German added.
He explained that the glue traps were similar to those used to catch rodents, but in this case, the snake was removed right after it was captured. They used mineral oil to safely remove the snake from the sticky pad.
“We really didn’t want to hurt the snake,” German said. “I know a lot of people think that the snake should have just been killed, but that’s a last resort. If you can capture the animal without harming it and get it to a secure place and no one gets hurt, that’s the best possible outcome. Luckily, it all worked out. It was a good plan that Jen had in place.”
He added that it was his job to hold the snake steady with the tongs while Davis “extricated it from the glue trap.” Everyone was wearing protective gear during the rescue.
“The other aspect to this is that it’s a spitting cobra, and I know a lot of people were excited about that,” German said. “So, we all wore eye protection. And the snake didn’t spit — I think mostly because the glue trap had immobilized it and it wasn’t able to.”
Considering Gifford failed to keep the snake secure, German says the animal is currently at a secure facility outside the Raleigh area and will hopefully wind up at a zoo or venom lab.
Rumors started circulating that there were other venomous snakes on the loose, considering Gifford’s prized collection, but German said, “They were very confident based on their investigation that there were no other venomous snakes that were loose in the neighborhood.”
German added that it might be time for Gifford to invest in a snake-proof room, referring to the creatures as “escape artists” with the ability to slip through “tight spaces.”
“You should have multiple layers of security if you’re keeping venomous animals,” he said. “I’m not into the captive husbandry of them. I’m not saying I completely disagree with it in certain cases, but unless somebody is extremely responsible and does everything the right way, I think it’s probably a bad idea.”