During a three-day sojourn on the streets of northwest Raleigh, N.C., a dangerous, venom-spitting cobra sunned itself on porches and frightened the people who crossed its path as officials struggled to locate and trap the escaped pet.
The animal had slithered away from a nearby home where its owner, 21-year-old Christopher Gifford, keeps dozens of reptiles, including several species of venomous snakes that he shows off on his social media accounts. Gifford did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.
On Monday, a concerned citizen called 911 after spotting the unusual black-and-white striped snake on a porch in northwest Raleigh.
“It looks like it’s actually a python,” the caller said. “This sounds crazy, but it looks like it’s a python from Australia.”
The evasive reptile was neither a python nor from Australia. Instead, the escape artist turned out to be a type of spitting cobra native to Africa. With photos and video of the snake, police identified the species as Naja nigricincta nigricincta, commonly known as a zebra cobra, which can be found in parts of Namibia and Angola.
Raleigh officials, including members of the police department and animal control, launched a tense search for the snake, warning the public that it was “still on the loose and could spit and bite if cornered.” Although rarely fatal, the snake’s painful venom — which it can spit from up to nine feet away — can cause swelling, blistering and tissue damage, according to the African Snakebite Institute.
For three days, the snake wound its way along Sandringham Drive, alternately sunbathing and hiding in the shadows around houses.
The serpent caused quite a spectacle in the North Carolina city, earning its own fan-made Twitter account and merchandise proclaiming it “Raleigh’s famous cobra.”
On Wednesday, Judith Retana, a journalist for WNCN in Raleigh, came face-to-face with the animal while reporting. Both appeared to suffer a shock.
“I swear I made eye contact with the snake,” she told WNCN.
The snake reared back, lifting its head as if ready to spit or bite. Retana quickly retreated and flagged down a nearby police officer, but by the time animal control showed up, the snake had slipped off the porch to hide again.
“It was definitely too up close and personal,” Retana said. “I’m still a little bit nervous about it.”
The reptile had been one of Gifford’s many exotic pets, which include dozens of snakes and lizards that he keeps in the basement of the Raleigh home he shares with his parents, the News & Observer reported. On TikTok, Gifford shares videos of venomous snakes eating rodents and rearing back to strike with sharp fangs.
In April, Gifford said he was bitten by a West African green mamba while cleaning the enclosures in his home. He said he was moving the snake to a temporary holding container when the animal wrapped around the door of its enclosure, making it awkward to handle.
“In a split second he used the door as a springboard to fly up backwards over his body and the door and tagged my left hand,” Gifford said on Facebook.
He said he immediately secured the snake and then went to the emergency room, where he was given antivenin and recovered from the bite.
“In all honesty I shouldn’t have lived and I thank God that I’m here today,” he added.
North Carolina allows residents to own venomous snakes without a permit as long as they keep the animals in “escape-proof” and “bite-proof” enclosures with locks.
The three-day search for the escaped zebra cobra finally ended late Wednesday when officials managed to catch the animal using glue traps, WTVD reported.
“The Zebra Cobra is safely contained and being cared for in an appropriate facility,” Raleigh police said Thursday. “The Raleigh Police Department worked with outside resources to safely secure exotic venomous reptiles that were located in a residence on Chamonix Place.”
Jen Davis, who helped catch the elusive snake, said on Facebook that the rescue was a team effort by Raleigh police, animal control and emergency medical services. Officials haven’t said where the zebra cobra ended up, they but reassured the public that it was safe and still alive.
“The little nigricincta is doing well,” Davis said.