An Orange County man bitten by a king cobra in May pleaded guilty Monday to a misdemeanor charge of violating a state law for how venomous snakes should be housed.
Ali Iyoob, 21, of Chapel Hill, was bitten May 2 and called 911 as he drove himself to the hospital. An ambulance picked him up on the side of the highway and rushed him to UNC Hospitals, where antivenin for the cobra bite, which can be fatal, arrived by plane the next morning from a South Carolina zoo.
Orange County District Court Judge Lunsford Long gave Iyoob two years of supervised probation and ordered him to pay restitution of roughly $4,000 for the cost of having his snakes, reptiles and other pets removed and housed at local and state facilities.
The sentence allows Iyoob to avoid a 45-day jail sentence. Six other state and local charges were dismissed.
Authorities removed 34 snakes – 18 of which were venomous – and dozens of other animals May 4 from Iyoob’s home on N.C. 54, west of Carrboro.
The state does not prohibit owning venomous and constricting snakes, but requires them to be housed in a sturdy, secure enclosure with a visible label. Orange County has local rules that prohibit keeping “poisonous, crushing and giant” reptiles except for research.
The N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences and the N.C. Zoological Park have the venomous and constrictor snakes; the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission has the illegally possessed native snakes, officials said. Iyoob does not plan to recover the reptiles that were legally owned and housed.
Iyoob’s sentence prohibits him from possessing more than six non-venomous snakes for the first six months of his probation, Long said The number increases to eight snakes at that time and to a dozen non-venomous snakes after a year, Long said. A veterinarian or reptile expert must certify the snakes are non-venomous.
Iyoob told the judge he was bitten by the king cobra while trying to address the snake’s medical issues. He misjudged how long the snake was – 11 feet instead of 10 feet – and did not correctly place the hook used to hold the snake, he said.
Iyoob said he is a biologist with a “strong interest” in cobras and other snakes; he was slow to answer when Long asked if 12 snakes were enough. He has three snakes now, Iyoob said, and does not rule out moving and owning a cobra in the future.
“I think he was pretty hesitant, especially given the number of snakes he had prior,” assistant district attorney Billy Massengale said. “I think it was pretty reasonable to ask for (a limit on the number).”
The district attorney’s office considered Iyoob’s medical bills – more than $750,000 – in waiving the court fees, Massengale said.