King Cobra Snake Loose, Highlighting Dangers of Exotic Pet Ownership

A venomous and non-native king cobra snake has escaped from its owner’s home in Orlando, Florida and is currently on the loose. As officials from Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission hunt for the 8-foot-long reptile and warn residents against catching it or trying to apprehend it themselves, the incident has yet to spark a long overdue national discussion about the dangers of exotic pet ownership in the United States.


Exotic pets of every shape and size abound across the country. There are hundreds of thousands of privately owned snakes, spiders, and reptiles, many of which are extremely poisonous. Some are legally imported, regulated, registered, and sold at exotic pet stores; many others are illegally smuggled into the country and sold unregistered at exotic pet shows.

Big cats are very popular. There are thousands privately owned lions across the U.S., and between 5,000 and 7,000 tigers—more than exist in the wild. Many dangerous primates and bears are also kept as pets, and even the occasional elephant.

Since 1990, exotic pets in the U.S. have killed at least 75 people and led to 1,610 health-related incidents (a deceivingly low number, since many exotic pet owners will keep the harm caused by their pets a secret). Disease transmission is another issue. Many exotic pets carry harmful or fatal diseases such as monkeypox and herpes. And an estimated 90% of all reptiles carry and shed salmonella in their feces.

National Wildlife regulations are a patchwork of varying levels of exotic pet regulation. Some states take the problem seriously and have outright bans on owning dangerous wildlife. Other states, like Florida, ban some dangerous animals but not others. In some states, owning any dangerous wildlife is allowed but requires a permit. And in a handful of states—Ohio, Wisconsin, Nevada, West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Alabama—all exotic pet ownership is permitted, completely unrestricted and unregulated. Incidents of escape and intentional release abound, as demonstrated by an excellent documentary called The Elephant In The Living Room.

King Cobra Snake Loose, Highlighting Dangers of Exotic Pet Ownership - Clapway


Given the extreme harm that many exotic pets are capable of dealing, pitting them against each other would actually be a shockingly effective (if cruel and unusual) means of reducing the dangers of exotic pet ownership in the U.S.

Take the Orlando king cobra snake, for example. One bite from a king cobra can kill an elephant. A what? An elephant, a big fat elephant, dead from one bite, from one snake. So what if we let the king cobra do the dirty work for Animal Control, let the snake loose in all the private lion dens and monkey cages and elephant stables across the country, easily eliminating the risk of their escape and attack? Brilliant idea.

No, it’s a stupid idea, and an incredibly cruel one. And it should highlight the cruelty of importing and owning these animals in the first place, animals that are not meant to coexist with humans, and for whom humans will never be able to provide a proper home.

By the way, the owner of the king cobra snake was allegedly a certified reptile expert with a license to own the snake. But if such “expertise” and licensing fails to prevent fatally venomous snakes from running loose in a major American city, then our regulations are clearly insufficient.


Let’s compare the trade and regulation of exotic pets in the U.S. to the trade and regulation of firearms. In some states, venomous snakes and deadly weapons require some sort of license and certification. In all states, these requirements are easily avoidable by buying guns or animals at gun shows or animal shows, or secondhand from other owners; illegally acquired guns and animals account for large portions of the harm dealt by guns and animals in general. Both of those loopholes should be closed.

So let’s say that you do close the loopholes, and that all guns and exotic pets in the country are licensed and registered by certified owners. The possible harm inflicted by both guns and exotic pets is significantly reduced—making both of these regulations absolutely worth the effort.

A gun would then lie in the home of a registered owner, harmless until that owner wrongfully uses it. But an exotic pet is only so controllable; it has needs, mobility, and a will of its own. Against all odds, pets can escape, or turn on their owners, or simply become unmanageable.

Simply put: gun control is achievable, animal control is not.

Whether we should allow any dangerous exotic pet ownership is a worthwhile debate. But if it is allowed, then from a perspective of public safety, we should regulate exotic pets like weapons with minds of their own: whatever our gun laws restrict, our animal laws should go further.

The bottom line is that exotic pet ownership is not necessarily companionship. Despite what affection or intimacy exotic pet owners might profess for their animals, the impracticality and danger of owning them requires a control of the animals that is ultimately unfair and cruel.

Born Free USA, the largest organization advocating for the rights of exotic “pets,” cites three major threats: public safety, public health, and animal cruelty. It sees only one solution—banning the private possession of exotic animals entirely.

Do you think people should be allowed to keep exotic pets, even dangerous ones? Share your thoughts!