People and Other Animals: Stray Cobra Found But Who Else Is Out There?

Residents of Los Angeles' Thousand Oaks neighborhood had a bit of a scare last week when an albino monacled cobra was spotted making his or her way across Rancho Road. Most stray snake reports turn out to be garden hoses but not all of them, and certainly not this time. The skilled officers of Los Angeles County's Department of Animal Care and Control combed the community and after four days were able to safely catch the snake (safely, that is, for both the officers and the snake) who is now being examined at the L.A. Zoo.

Lots of scares here (including the scared family of a seven-year-old whippet bitten by the snake, happily surviving a bite which can be fatal to a much larger animal including an adult human) and lots of silliness (more than 200 tweets from the snake's supposedly own Twitter account, @AlbinoMonoCobra), and now of course the story fades into the background. Except...

...all of last week I received calls from people up in this part of the State wondering how could such a thing happen? How could someone own a deadly, exotic snake (obviously cobras are not native to California)? How likely is such a thing to occur again?

To say that this animal is deadly completely misses the point. Cobras fill a niche where they belong. They do not belong here. There is no niche for them in San Francisco or Los Angeles. Whether smuggled-in wild caught animals or those captive-bred offspring of wild ancestors, to have them here is cruel to them and potentially quite dangerous for the rest of us.

So how likely is such a thing to occur? The answer, it is inevitable. Indeed, just 24 hours ago my shelter received a 7-foot long and rather cranky boa constrictor found stray near an elementary school. Do a search of "exotic animals for sale", "venomous snakes for sale", and similar phrases and watch what pops up. On the Google search I just did while writing this, I found leopards, servals, lions, tigers, gila monsters and beaded lizards (the only two species of venomous lizard), Gaboon vipers, spitting cobras (able to accurately spit venom temporarily blinding an animal), monacled cobras (in fact, a whole litter of newborn babies of the same species which who kept L.A. on edge much of last week), alligators and a long, long list of others.

It's now faded over time but I still have a scar on my right arm where a crocodile latched on and tried to separate it from the rest of me. Over the years of working with and for animals in the Bay Area, I've handled cobras, alligators and caimans, Australian tiger snakes (for which no anti-venin was available anywhere closer than Sydney), rhesus macaques, margays, and many other wild, non-native animals kept by morons as exotic "pets."

So, yes, this will happen again.