The zebra cobra, which is native to central Namibia and Angola, has been classified as “VERY DANGEROUS” in bright red capital letters by the African Snakebite Institute. It’s not just that the snake can spit—it can, and it has a spitting range of about nine feet—but its poisonous venom can cause tissue damage, in addition to pain, swelling and blistering.
Since the capital of Namibia is roughly 7,415 miles of ocean away from the capital of North Carolina, the residents of Raleigh could be forgiven for losing their shit when they started reading headlines earlier this week about an escaped zebra cobra. (Or when they received an email from their homeowners’ association that started with the sentence “As you are already aware, we have a Zebra Cobra snake loose in the community.”)
A resident of the Brittany Woods neighborhood called 911 on Monday evening after seeing the snake on his porch. According to the News & Observer, the Raleigh Police Department issued an advisory about the snake on Tuesday, warned anyone who saw the snake to dial 911, and they blocked the street where it apparently had been hanging out.
By Tuesday afternoon, both the cops and officers from Raleigh Animal Control were allegedly seen entering a nearby home where 21-year-old Christopher Gifford lives with his parents. Gifford, who has more than 464,000 followers on TikTok, frequently posts videos and Instagram pics of his venomous snakes, which include Gaboon vipers, green bush vipers, and assorted cobras. Many of the snakes Gifford allegedly owns are not native to the United States, let alone native to his North Carolina subdivision—but it is legal for him to have them.
According to the state’s regulations for ownership, all venomous snakes are required to be housed in enclosures that are “designed to be escape-proof, bite-proof, and have an operable lock,” and they must be labeled with the words “Venomous Reptile Inside,” along with the snake’s common and scientific names, and a list of the antivenom that would be required in the event of a bite.
WRAL reported that, less than 24 hours before the cobra’s escape, Gifford allegedly posted a picture of a zebra cobra on Instagram, with the caption “All smiles from this big girl. Zebra Spitting cobra (Naja nigricincta) #snakes #snakesofinstagram.” That post—along with all the ‘grams and TikToks that featured a zebra cobra—have since been deleted, possibly for reasons that will seem super obvious in a second.
In March, an unidentified North Carolina man was hospitalized after being bitten by an “extremely venomous” green mamba. The News & Observer wrote that the UNC REX Hospital didn’t have any of the necessary antivenom, and had to reach out to the Riverbanks Zoo and Garden in Columbia, South Carolina for urgent assistance. Herpetologists at the zoo—which is more than 250 miles southwest of Raleigh—frantically packed 10 vials of green mamba antivenom on ice, took it to a waiting helicopter at a nearby hospital, and flew it back to North Carolina. The man was treated with four vials and spent more than 40 hours in the hospital.
Aaand you already know where this is going, don’t you? In an early-April Facebook post shared to a group called “The Venom Interviews,” Gifford acknowledged that he was the one who had been bitten by the green mamba.
“My first reaction [after the bite] was to drop the snake, after that I hooked and tailed him, secured the snake [...] and immediately went upstairs to notify my parents I had been bit and we needed to go to the hospital,” he wrote. “On our way I had called two numbers, poison control center and 911 in hopes to get in touch with ER to let them know a patient was coming and that I would need an ICU as well as probably would need to be intubated. Once in the hospital there were two things I said due to the fact I didn’t know how much longer I could speak and that was ‘I refuse a fasciotomy and I want zero [media] coverage on me being here for a bite”.
In that post, Gifford said that Animal Control went to his parents’ home to do the equivalent of an all-snake welfare check, and that they were “pleased with [the] housing and health” of the reptiles, and that he was mostly in compliance with the state’s requirements. (One thing he’d failed to do was to put together a written “escape recovery plan” for the snakes. Foreshadowing for the win.)
“I have learned a lot and hope others can take something positive from this situation because we can all do better,” he wrote. “I continue to keep [venomous snakes] and probably will for the rest of my life, I learned a lot and I continue to learn.” (The most recent comment on Gifford’s three month-old post says “Wait this is the same kid that lost the cobra? Hahaha fucking hell.”)
On Wednesday afternoon, CBS17 reporter Judith Retana approached the house where the cobra had been last seen and was shocked when it slithered onto that same porch. She called the cops, and after seven hours of coordination between the police, animal control officers, and emergency medical personnel, the snake was caught, dropped into a plastic bucket, and transported away from the property.
Raleigh Animal Control Officer Lauren Mulleady, who assisted in the cobra recovery efforts, told VICE that “at this moment in time,” the snake is still alive. “The snake was successfully captured,” she said. “There’s not much more I can answer, as nobody’s allowing us to state anything at this moment.”
Mulleady declined to comment on whether Gifford or his parents were involved, or whether they could face any criminal charges, fines, or would have to cover any of the costs of the two-day, multi-department operation that was staged in their neighborhood. She also declined to comment on whether any of Gifford’s other snakes had been confiscated (although Retana posted on Twitter that “a source” told her that those reptiles had all been collected by animal control.)
As of this writing, neither Gifford nor his parents have spoken publicly about the incident, and Gifford did not respond to VICE’s request for comment. The last word on this entire dumb scenario might have come from @CobraRaleigh, the inevitable Twitter account that had been posting nearly nonstop since Tuesday morning. “I shall return,” it wrote.
Maybe give everybody a minute, yeah?