Chapel Hill News

Orange Co. workers remove 34 snakes from home of bite victim

An Orange County Animal Control officer helps two private snake rehabilitator specialists load sealed bins of snakes into an SUV on Wednesday, May 4, at a home at on N.C. 54. Thirty four snakes, many venomous, plus a dog, cat, chickens and chicks, a caiman crocodile and fish were removed from the home after resident Ali Iyoob, 21, was bitten Monday by his pet King Cobra.
An Orange County Animal Control officer helps two private snake rehabilitator specialists load sealed bins of snakes into an SUV on Wednesday, May 4, at a home at on N.C. 54. Thirty four snakes, many venomous, plus a dog, cat, chickens and chicks, a caiman crocodile and fish were removed from the home after resident Ali Iyoob, 21, was bitten Monday by his pet King Cobra. hlynch@newsobserver.com

As workers removed 34 snakes and other animals from the home of a man bitten by his pet king cobra this week, reptile enthusiasts raised money to help with medical and legal bills.

Reptile Rescue of the Carolinas posted a link to gofundme.com asking for contributions.

“If you know Ali Iyoob, a recent student of the biology department at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, when you hear his name the first thing you think of is a passion for reptiles,” the gofundme page creator wrote. “Ali’s life is devoted to the study, photography, and protection of all wildlife, but if you know him, you know that snakes have a special place in his heart.”

Iyoob, 21, was in UNC Hospitals, after making a harrowing 911 call at 9:18 p.m. Monday.

“I just got bit by a king cobra, and I’m on my way to the hospital,” Iyoob told the emergency dispatcher.

Iyoob, who lived about 10 miles west of Carrboro on N.C. 54, pulled over a few miles from the hospital, sweating profusely, sick to his stomach, his vision blurred and drifting into a coma.

He was put on a ventilator at the hospital to keep him alive until antivenin could be found. Scott Pfaff, curator of herpetology at Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia, S.C., got a call from Carolinas Poison Center workers seeking the antivenin for a king cobra bite.

The zoo stocks dozens of different antivenin – to protect against everything from king cobras to eyelash vipers. Pfaff filled a cooler with 11 ampules, 10 milliliters each, and rushed them to a waiting plane to ferry the antidote back to Chapel Hill.

Iyoob remained in critical condition late Wednesday.

Grover Barfield, a Gaston County resident with Carolina Reptile Rescue and Education Center, said he knew Iyoob mostly from Facebook. He worries publicity about the bite might give reptile enthusiasts “a bad name,” Barfield said.

“Many of the folks that had negative comments were talking about things that they know little or nothing about and I suspect hate snakes,” he said. “Several said that they should all be killed. That shows me that they do not understand the ecosystem and what part snakes play in it.”

North Carolina reports roughly 650 bites each year, said Eugenia Quackenbush, an emergency medicine doctor at UNC Hospitals. The season runs from April to October, and about 50 bites a year are treated at UNC Hospitals, she said.

About 8,000 snakebites are reported nationwide, although only nine to 15 are fatal.

“The vast majority of snakebites in our area are copperhead snakebites, and these are generally non-life-threatening,” Quackenbush said. “They can be an inconvenience, they can be painful, and they can cause some local tissue destruction, swelling and loss of function, but the vast majority of these are not life-threatening.”

Other dangerous snakes in the area are timber rattlesnakes and cottonmouths, or water moccasins, she said, members of the crotalid family.

UNC Hospitals stocks CroFab antivenin to treat crotalid bites. CroFab’s antibody binds with venom, stopping it until the body can excrete it. Treatment usually involves 10 to 12 vials of anti-venin, at a cost of $2,000 to $2,400 each, Quackenbush said.

The coral snake – which, with cobras, is in the elapid family – is also a native but very rare, found in the state’s south and southeastern areas.

Elapid bites are much more dangerous, Quackenbush said, because they carry neurotoxins that attack the nervous system and suffocate their victim.

Snakebite victims should go to the hospital, even if the snake isn’t venomous, Quackenbush said, because every bite is different.

Animal control officers, Orange County Sheriff’s Office deputies and wildlife experts identified and removed 60 animals from Iyoob’s home, a brick house in western Orange County, over six hours on Wednesday. A dog and cat were taken to Animal Services.

Eighteen of 34 snakes were venomous. They shared the home with a caiman, two turtles, five chickens, eight chicks, four quail and four fish.

The constrictor snakes were taken to the N.C. Zoological Park, and native reptiles were turned over to the N.C. Wildlife Resource Commission. The remaining animals were taken to Animal Services until a judge decides their fate, county officials said.

Investigators are considering possible charges, officials said.

Tammy Grubb: 919-829-8926

Anne Blythe: 919-836-4948

Snakebite tips

▪ Get someone else to drive you to the hospital

▪ Do not capture the snake or pick up the head; it can still bite and inject venom

▪ Take a picture of the snake to help the hospital identify it

▪ Watch for swelling or other symptoms, such as low blood pressure

▪ Wear shoes when walking outside, especially in the evenings; carry a flashlight at night

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