Zoo expert says cobra captured in California neighborhood has intact venom glands

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A deadly cobra that mysteriously appeared in a Southern California neighborhood was taken to the Los Angeles Zoo after being spotted and tracked to a backyard woodpile where animal-control officers captured it. (Sept. 5)

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LOS ANGELES — A monocled cobra that roamed a California neighborhood for days could have given a potentially deadly bite, a snake expert said Friday.

"There's no indication that it's had its venom glands removed," said Ian Recchio, curator of reptiles and amphibians at the Los Angeles Zoo.

The snake, about 3 feet long, was captured on Thursday in a neighborhood in Thousand Oaks, where it had been slithering around since at least Monday.

Reports that it had bitten a dog that evening raised concerns, and authorities warned people to watch their children and keep their pets indoors.

A veterinarian later said it appeared the dog was simply injured while trying to get away from the snake.

Still, authorities were wary because the bite of a monocled cobra can kill a person within hours if untreated.

The snake was taken to the Los Angeles Zoo Thursday evening and was transferred Friday to the San Diego Zoo, which has a supply of antivenom for Asian cobras.

A monocled cobra gets its name from the ring-like mark on the back of its hood, but the cobra found in California lacked the mark because it is nearly pure white.

The blue-eyed snake lacks pigment, a condition known as leucism, Recchio said.

The snake probably was raised in captivity because its color would make it an easy dinner for predators in the wild, Recchio said.

The snake is an adult and could be anywhere from 5 years to 20 years old, Recchio estimated. Monocled cobras can grow to 5 or 6 feet and live two decades, he added.

Recchio said the snake appears to be healthy and probably chowed down on rats and mice while it was loose.

"It looks pretty fat," he said.

The zoo didn't try to determine its sex.

"We don't have the antivenom here so putting your hands on it wouldn't be in the cards," he explained.

Cobras are illegal in California without a permit to keep one for scientific or educational purposes. Authorities are searching for the owner.

There is a thriving black-market trade around the world in dangerous and exotic wildlife, but Recchio said he couldn't understand the motivation of the owner.

"I can't get into the person's head who would put their neighbors and their family at risk," he said.

Snakes aren't aggressive but will bite if they are cornered, so it's a good thing that the cobra will have a new home at the San Diego Zoo, said Recchio.

"I'm looking at an animal that's over-the-top, nervous, just wants to get away from you and settle down," he said. "So I'm happy it's going to be in a place ... where it'll be safe."

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