Does pet cobra or rattlesnake live next door?

Posted by Big Rat on Campus on Nov 30, 2014 in Rat Answers | Subscribe

The pale yellow house in Davie contains creatures that could paralyze your lungs, destroy your blood cells or wreck your kidneys.

Danger – Venomous Reptiles warns a sign on the second floor, where about 30 snakes hiss and coil in securely locked, aquarium-like cases landscaped with tree branches, logs and rocks. A monocled cobra flares its hood in one case. In another, a king cobra lurks inside a log. Other cases contained eyelash vipers, Gaboon vipers and Chinese sharpnose vipers.

Their owner, Ryan Martinez, is one of 288 people or organizations in Florida with a permit to keep venomous reptiles or large constricting snakes. Of these, 246 cover cobras, vipers and other venomous snakes. Miami-Dade County leads with 32 permit holders, followed by Broward with 28, Hillsborough with 16 and Orange and Palm Beach, with 15 each.

Check our database to see if deadly snakes live in your neighborhood

“There’s just something prehistoric about it,” said Martinez, an experienced wildlife handler who works at Zoo Miami. “There’s something about an animal that produces venom that really speaks about evolution. Venomous snakes have this power to hit once and leave it alone and let nature take its course.”

Many conservation and animal rights groups oppose the private ownership of these reptiles. Since most are not native to Florida, they pose the risk of escape or release, where they could reproduce and thrive in the wild like the Burmese pythons that have colonized the Everglades.

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“They’re incredibly dangerous,” said Debbie Leahy, captive wildlife specialist for the Humane Society of the United States. “These are creatures that can attack in the blink of an eye. If someone is bitten, the anti-venin, especially for an exotic species, is difficult to locate. Emergency responders are put in danger when they respond to calls about venomous snakes. These are just as dangerous as somebody having a pet tiger in their backyard. It may even be more dangerous, since they can hide so easily.”

Unlike Burmese pythons, which for years were available to anyone with a credit card, venomous reptiles require a state permit that’s very difficult to obtain. Applicants must prove at least 1,000 hours of experience with the family of snakes they want to keep, produce letters of recommendation and submit to an inspection that shows their animals are secured and that the required written bite protocols are in view.

As a result of the strict standards, snake owners say there is far less chance these snakes would end up in the hands of irresponsible people who would let them go in the wild.

“The state of Florida has the best regulations and rules for keeping them,” said Sloane Russeck, of Delray Beach, who has kept cobras, rattlesnakes and many other venomous reptiles. “With what they require, you really have to be dedicated. It’s only committed, serious people.”

Although he no longer keeps snakes, he maintains his permit because it was so difficult to get and because it allows him to relocate unwanted snakes that would otherwise be killed, taking them to people licensed to keep them.

“They’re fascinating, misunderstood animals,” he said.

Keeping venomous snakes is not an easy hobby. Martinez spends about $200 a month on frozen rodents. And then there are the risks.

Martinez was trying to clear some shed skin from the eye of a monocled cobra when it sank a fang into his thumb, injecting venom that can cause respiratory failure and paralysis. Relatively calmly, considering the circumstances, Martinez followed standard snake-bite protocol: First, secure the snake so anyone coming to help doesn’t get bitten, too.

He grabbed his bite protocol book and headed to the hospital. Refusing anti-venin for fear of an allergic reaction, he was put on a saline drip until the venom cleared from his system.

The Florida Poison Information Center – Miami, which serves Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Lee, Collier and Monroe counties, logged 686 venomous snake calls in the past two years, of which just nine were non-natives, such as cobras.

But the rarity of exotic snake bites can be misleading, said Dr. Jeffrey Bernstein, the center’s medical director.

“Eventually they all get bitten,” he said. “Even the professional handlers get bitten. If you’re going to keep a pet cobra, you have a very high risk of getting bitten by it. It’s playing with fire. Many of them have been bitten more than once. They get bitten and get away with it, in the sense that they live, and they continue doing it. We’ve had some pretty sick patients, hypotensive, with weakness and paralysis, and have brought them back with antivenin. “

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