Local News

Zebra cobra's owner faces charges following deadly snake's months-long escape

Posted July 7, 2021 4:06 p.m. EDT
Updated July 13, 2021 10:06 a.m. EDT

— A week after animal control authorities captured a venomous snake that was loose in a north Raleigh neighborhood, dozens of charges were lodged Wednesday against the snake's owner.

Criminal summons were issued against Christopher Michael Gifford, 21, alleging he violated state regulations regarding the ownership of venomous reptiles. The 40 charges involved are misdemeanors.

Police reported early on June 29 that a resident on Sandringham Drive had spotted a zebra cobra outside their home. The report and the resulting search for the deadly snake sent the north Raleigh neighborhood into a frenzy, with jittery residents staying inside their homes.

Investigators quickly converged on Gifford's home on nearby Chamonix Place, where they later "safely secured" multiple venomous reptiles.

The zebra cobra was captured last Wednesday night with a glue trap.

One of the misdemeanors filed against Gifford states that the zebra cobra had been loose since last November and that Gifford didn't notify law enforcement when it escaped, as required.

North Carolina is one of only six states that don't ban private ownership of venomous snakes or require a permit to have them. But owners must follow specific regulations, including housing them in secure enclosures with warning signs and notifying authorities whenever one escapes.

Thirty-six of the misdemeanors are for keeping various venomous snakes in plastic containers without any locks. Three others involved mislabeling the containers for certain snakes.

Gifford declined to comment Wednesday evening, referring all questions to his attorney.

"Clearly, he's stressed. He hasn't faced any charges like this before," attorney Anna Felts said. "Although they are minor in nature ... it's clearly stressful on his family."

Felts said Gifford has expressed remorse for the incident and understands the danger a zebra cobra on the loose posed to neighbors.

Raleigh City council member David Knight is looking at creating an ordinance to change that in Raleigh by examining what other cities have in place. Knight says changes must be made regarding the rules behind owning dangerous snakes.

"Using the best model of those that we think would be appropriate for Raleigh, I’m looking at banning the private and personal possession of these types of dangerous animals," Knight said. "We need to learn from this experience. We need to thank God that this incident did not end tragically."

Gifford is scheduled to appear in court on the charges on Aug. 6.

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