Allowing an extremely dangerous snake to escape from your house is one thing. Not reporting it for months as it slithered around a residential area is quite another.
TikTok-famous snake handler Chris Gifford, 22, is asking for forgiveness in the wake of last summer’s snake scare in Raleigh, North Carolina. Residents lived in fear after authorities warned that a zebra cobra—a deadly species known for its venom-spitting used to blind prey—had been spotted on the loose, but it wouldn’t be found for several days.
Gifford previously pleaded guilty in court for not immediately raising the alarm when the snake got out of its enclosure in November 2020. “I was young and terrified,” Gifford said in an interview with WRAL, explaining why he didn’t immediately act. “I still am young and terrified about the whole situation.”
The social-media star—who has over half-a-million followers on TikTok—bought two African zebra cobras in November 2020 to add to his snake collection. He’d kept them in separate enclosures in a standard quarantine procedure to stop new additions potentially spreading diseases to other snakes. But when he checked on them the day after their arrival in his house, one was gone—a realization Gifford describes as “this giant, ‘Oh crap’ moment.”
He realized that the container hadn’t been latched properly and immediately set about searching his parents’ basement for the missing reptile. Gifford hoped safety measures he’d put in place would ensure the snake must still be down there—until he found a pen-size hole in the wall leading into the drywall and crawl space under the house. Believing the zebra cobra must be trapped, Gifford convinced his parents—and himself—that there was no need to notify anyone about the breakout. Weeks passed without any sign of the snake. But even if it had got out, North Carolina’s freezing January nights and snowfall would surely mean the African snake couldn’t survive, right?
In June 2021, animal-control officers paid a visit to Gifford’s house. He assumed it was a routine visit to check on his snake collection until, after a search of his home, one of the officers pulled up a picture of the spitting cobra on her phone. “She goes, ‘This was found about three streets over.’ She asked me, ‘Is this snake yours?’” Gifford said. In a panic, Gifford lied and said it wasn’t his.
After she left his home, he told the local news outlet that he had a pang of conscience and called the officer to come clean. Gifford was ultimately ordered to give his $35,000 snake collection to the county and made to pay over $13,000 in restitution in part for the police and EMS search for the snake. Gifford also promised to not own any snakes for at least a year. The city of Raleigh even introduced a new dangerous-animal ordinance designed to stop people possessing snakes like Gifford’s in the wake of the panic.
Gifford now gets the seriousness of his inaction. “It was on a lady’s porch,” he said, speaking of where the snake was finally caught with a glue-trap. “Imagine if a little kid or something of that nature had happened?” He also explained his motivations for speaking out now: “Mostly this is just an apology because there are no excuses for what happened.”