What do you do when your venomous baby cobra escapes into your Raleigh, North Carolina, neighborhood?
Well, if you’re a barely-20-year-old TikTok influencer famous for your handling of snakes, you first panic. A lot.
Then you do a little soul-searching and a bit of growing up, and you beg your community for forgiveness on the local news.
At least, that’s what 22-year-old Chris Gifford, a TikToker with more than half a million followers reportedly did when his newly-acquired African zebra cobra slithered out of quarantine and ended up, months later, on someone’s front porch.
“It was on a lady’s porch,” Gifford told WRAL in his first interview about the incident. “Imagine if a little kid or something of that nature had happened?”
According to the African Snakebite Institute, the Zebra Cobra, when cornered, “will spread a hood and bite readily.”
“Like the Black Spitting Cobra, it is quick to spit and does so effectively,” the site states.
And while its venom is not commonly fatal, it is “potently cytotoxic, causing pain, swelling, blistering and in many instances tissue damage.”
Gifford bought his Houdini-esque snake along with a second Zebra cobra in November 2020, when the pair were just “eight, nine inches,” he said. In order to ensure they weren’t carrying any diseases that could hurt one of his more than 75 other snakes, he put them in quarantine in two separate containers until their good health was established.
But when he went to check up on the new additions to his collection, he discovered one had slipped out, thanks to an unsecured lid.
For Gifford, it was “just this giant ‘Oh crap!’ moment.”
Panic quickly set in.
“Immediately,” he said, “just frantic searching. Checking everything and everywhere.”
Gifford was sure the basement room in which he kept his pets was “fool-proof” and was convinced the AWOL snake was still in the house, even after his father found an uncovered ethernet cable hole that led to a crawl space.
“At this point we had bombed the basement with chemicals, set up cameras,” Gifford said. “That’s when the discussion comes up about reporting.”
Believing that, even if the snake had found a way out of the house, it would most certainly perish in a North Carolina winter, Gifford convinced his parents not to report his fugitive friend.
WRAL reports that temperatures dipped below zero 50 times that winter, but the resilient reptile made it to spring 2021 when the now much bigger snake was spotted three streets over and animal control paid Gifford a visit.
Panic overcame Gifford once more, and when the officer asked if the snake could be one of his, he played dumb.
“I was petrified,” Gifford said. “I didn’t know what to do. I was scared. I didn’t know what the precautions would be.”
“And none of this was an excuse,” the young snake handler stressed. “Immediately, I said I have no idea.”
But Gifford isn’t a bad kid. Just a scared one. And when guilt finally overwhelmed him, he called animal control and confessed to the whole ordeal.
In the end, a judge ordered that Gifford turn over his remaining 75 snakes to the county and pay back the $13,162 in resources spent to track the cobra down. The surrendered snakes will be used for research and anti-venom development, WRAL reports.
As for Gifford, he is prohibited from owning any venomous snakes until August. When he eventually does begin collecting the creatures again, he says he won’t do it in his parents’ house.
“To know that an animal you were supposed to take responsibility of, and due to your mistake and not making a call, is out… I was in tears,” Gifford said. “What I learned is you make the call, you keep yourself accountable, which I didn’t do.”
“Mostly, this is just an apology because there are no excuses for what happened,” he continued. “I love these animals, and I can share these animals on social media.”
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