A deadly snake slipped out of its enclosure and has been on the loose in an Ocala, Fla., neighborhood since Monday night.

Authorities from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) said they’ve spent the past few days outside the owner’s home, where the search for the missing serpent remains active and covering “all possible nooks and crannies.”

“We want the public to know that the snake has not been captured,” Robert Klepper, an FWC spokesman told The Washington Post. “Our investigators and officers are experienced with searching and tracking wildlife and they take all precautions possible to protect themselves.”

“It is a venomous reptile and a dangerous animal,” Kepper added.

While officials sounded the snake alarm — a single bite from the 2-foot-long suphan cobra carries enough venom to kill an elephant — George Van Horn, the owner of Reptile World Serpentarium in St. Cloud, Fla., said the public needs to take a deep breath and remember two things:

1) “Don’t pick up the snake”

2) “Calm down.”

“People get very excited about a snake, but statistically speaking, they’re just a blip on the radar screen of danger,” Van Horn told The Washington Post. “With the Asian cobra — if this is a monocled or a suphan cobra — there’s plenty of anti-venom here in the state of Florida to keep you alive.”

Van Horn would know. He said that during his 60-year career working with snakes he’s survived 14 serious bites, including several cobra and rattlesnake bites.

Van Horn noted this autobiographical statistic clinically — if not reluctantly — the way most people talk about how many times they’ve been in a fender bender or sprained their ankle playing basketball.

An inevitable question ensued: What does it feel like to be bitten by a cobra?

“Snake bites are generally very painful and cobra bites really hurt,” he said, noting that the pain is largely the result of the venom. “It’s usually almost like a burning pain, which evolves into a deep aching pain that makes you crush your eyes. It’s real deep and real hard, right around the bite area, but the burning pain is right around the fang punctures.”


The tan and yellow cobra in question belongs to an owner with a venomous reptile permit who was identified by the Ocala Star-Banner as Brian Purdy. The paper reported that Purdy — who had owned the cobra for about 1½ years — told police that his snake escaped after an apprentice failed to see the cobra in its enclosure and lifted the top cover of the animal’s cage.

“The cobra jumped at him — almost standing straight up — and then slid away,” the paper reported.

Despite sealing the room and searching for several hours, neither Purdy or his apprentice was able to locate the cobra, which prompted them to call police, the paper reported. Just before midnight Monday, FWC officers began to alert Purdy’s neighbors about the possibility of the missing cobra.

The Star-Banner reported that Purdy told officers that he also owns three exotic vipers and two venomous lizards. Purdy reportedly told investigators that one of his lizards may have eaten the snake and cited the reptile’s protruding belly as evidence. He later informed the Star-Banner that a veterinarian’s tests on the lizard “were inconclusive.”

The FWC released a statement that said the application process for owning venomous reptiles is “rigorous.”

“Applicants must provide FWC with an initial or current (if renewing license) inventory of reptiles, document at least 1,000 hours of experience for each family of venomous reptile requested and provide at least two reference letters from individuals that have personal knowledge of the stated experience, at least one of whom must currently possess a VRC license,” the statement said.

“There are approximately 300 individuals and facilities licensed by FWC to own venomous reptiles/conditional species,” the statement added.

The FWC said the missing cobra may remain in one place on a cloudy day, but could become more mobile with warmer weather. Members of the public who spot the snake are urged not to approach the animal and instead to call the FWC’s Wildlife Alert hotline at 888-404-3922 (FWCC) or *FWC or #FWC on cell phones.

If the snake did escape the house, experts said, it’s probably doing what snakes do best: hiding.

Carl Barden, the director of Medtoxin Venom Laboratories, in DeLand, Fla., said cobras are “remarkably shy” and couldn’t recall a snake bite from an escaped exotic pet in Florida.

“The reason we don’t see snakes very frequently is because their first reaction in any situation is to hide and not be seen,” he said.

“They will try to avoid any kind of contact or confrontation at all costs,” he said. ” They’re defensive and protective of their own well-being, but so is a chipmunk.”