Daily Updates

April 1, 2011

Bronx Zoo cobra found in its reptile house

NEW YORK — A highly venomous Egyptian cobra that went missing at the Bronx Zoo was found Thursday after nearly a week on the lam in the reptile house, zoo officials said.

The approximately 24-inch snake was found coiled in a dark corner of the reptile house, about 200 feet from where it had escaped from a holding cage outside the exhibit into a space described by officials as a labyrinth of pipes and equipment.

“As you can imagine, we are delighted to report that the snake has been found alive and well,” the zoo’s director, Jim Breheny, said during a news conference as he stood in front of a huge picture of the snake projected on a screen.

The reptile house, a foreboding building with vines crawling up its sides and stone heads of alligators and frogs jutting from the sides of its roof, had closed last Friday after the snake disappeared and zoo workers couldn’t find it.

The snake quickly became the stuff of urban legend. Someone even started pretending to be the cobra on Twitter and sent fake updates to legions of followers about its supposed escapades on the streets of New York City.

But zoo officials said the snake never left the reptile house and had been crawling around in an off-exhibit area.

Breheny said the snake was “resting comfortably and secure” and was being evaluated to make sure it was in good condition. He said it had been placed in the same area as the other venomous snakes. The zoo plans to exhibit the snake once it has been evaluated.

He said the zoo would probably hold a naming contest for the cobra, believed to be female, which it obtained in February.

The snake was captured at about 9 a.m. Thursday. Wood shavings that had been used as bedding for rats and mice were put out to lure the 3-ounce adolescent snake out of hiding, said Breheny, who explained that “snakes hunt by olfactory means.”

“It was merely the scent of the rodents that we hoped would bring her out,” he said.

Zoo workers also worked to reduce noise and dimmed the lights to make the environment more comforting, he said, adding that the key strategy was patience.

“We had to give her a chance to feel secure and comfortable so she would come out and explore her environment,” he said.

He did not explain exactly how the staff captured the snake but said workers who deal with venomous snakes typically use special tongs and a tool called a snake hook.

Breheny said the zoo is investigating how the snake escaped and evaluating its protocols to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Zoo officials hope to reopen the reptile house next week.

Meanwhile, BronxZoosCobra on Twitter had stopped posting messages sometime Thursday.

“Oh, this isn’t over,” the person wrote in an e-mail to The Associated Press in response to a request for comment on the capture of the snake. “They have only awakened the Bronx Zoo’s Cobra nation.”

Breheny said the “lighthearted” tone of the Twitter spoof was a sign that most people were confident in the Bronx zoo workers’ skills.

“We appreciated that element, but at the same time we needed to stay focused on recovering the animal, because it was a serious issue,” he said.

Outside the zoo, some Bronx residents said they were relieved the snake had been found.

Patricia Villa, 35, who walks by the zoo every day, said she and a friend prayed that they would not come across the snake as they passed the zoo one recent night while walking home from a nearby church.

Margaret Tanco, 51, said she worried about the safeguards the zoo has in place to keep animals inside.

“It’s very dangerous,” she said. “If a snake could come out, heaven knows what animal could.”

But Breheny said zoo officials were confident the snake would have likely fled rather than fight and pose a danger to people.

“Snakes in general are shy, secretive creatures. And venom is not primarily a defense mechanism, it is a way to procure food,” he said. “They don’t rely on aggressive biting or venom for anything other than food acquisition.”

He said officials were confident she would be found not far from where she had escaped.

 

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