JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – As wildlife officers continue to hunt for a missing 2-foot long cobra in Central Florida, News4Jax is looking into who can have the potentially deadly reptiles and how residents can know if there are any in their neighborhoods.
Ocala police said a man, who has a permit for the cobra, contacted the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission after the snake escaped its enclosure Monday. They said the man was cleaning its cage when it slithered out.
Experts said the snake could be hiding in the home or could have been eaten by the owner's other reptiles, but its disappearance has neighbors on high alert.
“We don’t know. That’s why we’re continuing to search,” said Chad Weber with FWC.
Venomous pets require a permit, and there are about 250 currently permitted in Florida. The state keeps track online at atoll.floridamarine.org.
News4Jax found there are at least 13 permits for dangerous reptiles in Jacksonville and many more across Northeast Florida.
The state doesn't just monitor venomous snakes, like cobras and rattlers. It also monitors large ones, like Burmese pythons.
Stephen Brezil has a permit to own venomous reptiles and has been selling reptiles at his Extreme Xotics shop on the Southside for a dozen years.
“You've got to have some responsibility in what you are doing, and you have to take the precautionary steps when you have something out,” Brezil said.
He said that even though the state has strict regulations, some people are careless, and they shouldn't be, because these aren’t average pets.
“Some are really aggressive,” Brezil said. “They will shoot right out of the cage at you. You've got to keep your distance, and you've got to be cautious.”
Brezil said that even though venomous snakes are in homes all over the area, people shouldn’t be overly concerned.
“It's not a snake that will go chase somebody down and want to attack somebody or hunt for its next victim,” he said. “It's going to go to a secure spot and try to hide.”
The process to get a permit for the animals in Florida is lengthy. Owners have to have 1,000 hours of hands-on training, and wildlife officers can inspect snake owners’ homes at any time.
Snake owners can also be held accountable if snakes get loose.
About a year ago, an 8-foot king cobra escaped and was found a month later in a woman’s dryer vent. That snake's owner is expected to go to trial this week.