An employee cleaning a snake cage at a Florida wildlife sanctuary was in critical condition after being bitten by a cobra early Thursday, wildlife officials said.
The woman was bitten on the hand around 5:30 a.m. by a spectacled cobra about three feet in length at McCarthy's Wildlife Sanctuary in Loxahatchee, said Katie Johnson of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
The victim's name wasn't released. She was transported to Palms West Hospital in stable condition, according to Capt. Albert Borroto of Palm Beach County Fire Rescue. Later, her condition was listed as critical, Johnson said. An antivenin team from Miami-Dade County was dispatched and arrived around 8 a.m.
The employee had a required permit to work with snakes at the privately run sanctuary, which boasts of "the coolest collection of snakes around" on its website. The site features numerous pictures of its snakes and other creatures it houses.
Johnson said wildlife officials were probing the bite, but that investigators previously reported the sanctuary as a "stellar facility." She said it could be ruled an accident.
"A snake like this in the wild isn't expecting a human to come and clean its environment," she said.
Cobras are part of a family of venomous snakes that are particularly dangerous. Still, the chances of dying from a snake bite in the U.S. are virtually nonexistent, said Steve Johnson, a professor of wildlife ecology at the University of Florida.
The professor said around 8,000 people are bitten by venomous snakes in the U.S. each year, but only five or six typically die. Those who work with snakes sometimes let their guard down after growing comfortable with them, he said.
"You work with venomous snakes and eventually if you do it enough, you just get bitten," he said.