Owner of venom-spitting cobra that escaped in Raleigh faces 40 misdemeanor charges

Wake County News

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – The owner of a venom-spitting cobra that escaped in a Raleigh neighborhood is facing 40 misdemeanor charges, according to Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman.

Court documents showed the snake was missing since November 2020.

Christopher Gifford, 21, faces 40 charges for violating a state statute regulating the ownership of venomous reptiles. Included were 36 counts of improper enclosure, three counts of mislabeled enclosures, and one count of failure to report the escape, Raleigh police said.

The zebra cobra escaped and was spotted in a northwest Raleigh neighborhood. It was reported by a 911 caller on June 28. Animal control caught the snake on June 30 hours after a CBS 17 crew encountered it and alerted police to its location.

“My client has been extremely worried, just to make sure it was captured safely and it was and he’s followed all the precautions that he could to help with that procedure,” Anna Felts, Gifford’s attorney said.

CBS 17 asked Felts why Gifford didn’t report the snake missing.

“Those are facts that we’re kind of working with investigators, to be honest,” Felts said.

Felts confirmed 75 other snakes, some of them venomous were seized from Gifford’s home last week.

Authorities said it was taken to a secure facility. They didn’t say where.

The zebra cobra was reported by a 911 caller around 5 p.m. on June 28. It was caught around 8:40 p.m. on June 30.

The zebra cobra snake is not native to North Carolina or even the United States. The only venomous snake native to Raleigh is the copperhead.

“The law as you know provides very specific details if you are going to possess this type of animal… to try and protect the safety of the public,” Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman said.

Venom from the snake can cause swelling, difficulty opening your eyes, or breathing. It’ll be a painful and swollen bite. However, the zebra cobra snake doesn’t have to bite you to be dangerous. It spits venom from its mouth.

Felts couldn’t say whether her client would try to get the snakes back or not. 

Gifford faces up to 60 days behind bars on each of these charges, which are all considered class 2 misdemeanors. 

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