Experts at the North Carolina Museum of Sciences are assisting Orange County Animal Services in removing a king cobra and other snakes from the home where the reptile bit its owner, injecting a potentially lethal venom.
King cobras are the world's biggest venomous snakes. They can grow as long as 18 feet.
Former UNC-Chapel Hill biology major Ali Iyoob, a reptile enthusiast, was bitten by his pet king cobra on Monday night.
"Hey, I just got bit by um, a king cobra, and I'm on my way to the hospital," Iyoob says in a 911 call to dispatchers in Orange County as he attempts to drive himself to the hospital.
"My vision's kind of blurry. I'm sweating like crazy. I'm like panicking. I feel nauseous," Iyoob said to the dispatcher.
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Nearly unconscious, Iyoob pulls his car over on Highway 54, where paramedics arrived to rush him to UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill. He's in critical condition.
"I have met Ali, yes," says Dr. Bryan Stuart, NC Museum of Natural Sciences curator of snake and reptiles.
Dr. Stuart is not friends with Iyoob, but has met him casually in the world of snake enthusiasts. A world where people like Iyoob keep, breed, and sell reptiles in their homes. And, a small minority keep snakes as potentially dangerous as a king cobra.
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"Even right here in North Carolina, there are a lot of people who keep venomous reptiles in their homes as pets," Stuart said.
"In this day and age, in the internet age, it's possible to buy a king cobra on the internet," Stuart said.
Orange County Animal Services is working with Stuart and the museum to remove Iyoob's king cobra and the 20-odd other snakes Iyoob was keeping at his house.
"Our goal is to work to ensure that no one else is harmed by this snake," said Orange County Animal Services Director Bob Marotto.
When ABC11 asked Dr. Stuart whether he would recommend housing one of these types of snakes at their home, Stuart was unequivocal.
"Absolutely not," Stuart said.
"You expect that in the country, to be snakes around," neighbor Vickie West-Riggsbee said. "But to have one as a pet? I don't understand that. Because first of all, I don't like snakes! Who does? But evidently he does, so I was kind of shocked to hear about it in this neighborhood."
Another neighbor who doesn't want to appear on camera says he spoke with Iyoob before the venomous snake struck and the only pets mentioned were a cat, a dog, and some chickens.
There's an investigation underway to determine whether any state or county laws were broken by housing that venomous snake.
The North Carolina general statute, Article 5, requires housing venomous, constricting snakes in sturdy, labeled enclosures, and having a recovery plan if one gets loose. And an ordinance in Orange County prohibits residents from keeping wild and dangerous animals. It's still unclear exactly where Iyoob lives.
Dr. Stuart told ABC11 that the Riverbank Zoo in Columbia, S.C., happened to have king cobra antivenin on hand. It was rushed to Chapel Hill to treat Iyoob.
He remains in intensive care.
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