Snake expert: Cobra bite could have been much worse

As an Orange County man bitten by a king cobra is recovering, a snake expert who's survived two king cobra bites himself said it easily could have been much worse.

Ali Iyoob, 21, told a 911 dispatcher Monday night a king cobra that he owns bit him inside his home. He was quickly treated at UNC Hospitals with antivenin brought in from a hospital in Columbia, S.C. As of Wednesday night, UNC Hospital officials said he was listed in fair condition.


George Van Horn founded Reptile World Serpentarium in St. Cloud, Fla. in 1972. From his snake colony, containing 540 venomous snakes, he and his team collect venom for university labs, research projects, and two major pharmaceutical companies that manufacture antivenin.

Van Horn's been tracking Iyoob's story and said it's not surprising something like that happened to the former UNC biology major who works with Reptile Rescue of the Carolinas and has a clear passion for snakes.

"It's not a big deal," Van Horn said. "I think the guy had the snake. He got bit by a snake -- nobody else got hurt."

Van Horn has suffered two king cobra bites while working at his serpentarium. The first, in 1977, happened as he was cleaning a snake cage.

"I got bit on the left hand by a good-size king cobra -- I think he was like 13 feet," he said. "I remember it was very painful."

In that case, his assistant drove him to the hospital where he was treated with antivenin he brought with him. Within hours he was feeling better.

In 1995, however, it wasn't so easy. One day, he was preparing to collect venom from a king cobra in front of a live audience of schoolchildren looking on through a window in his lab when the snake attacked.

"The snake went up to the window and then it turned around and it just charged me. And normally king cobras, when they charge like that, if you remain still they'll stop. But what happened was, it was a feeding response, and he got me on the left arm and he bit me actually several times before I got him off."


The bite was so bad that Van Horn ended up unconscious for three days in the hospital. He credits his assistant with rushing him to the ER in those critical moments after the cobra injected him with potentially lethal venom.

"She said I just started turning blue and she grabbed me by the hair while she was driving and held my head back with my airway as open as she could get it," Van Horn remembered. "So I think that kept me alive."

While Van Horn keeps his own antivenin on-hand in the case of emergencies, he said he was glad to hear Iyoob was able to be treated early with antivenin brought in from out of state.

"Regardless of what kind of venomous snake you're bitten by or how bad it is, if you have an antidote then you can come through it," he said.

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