More than a week after an eight-foot male cobra escaped from the home of its owner, Mike Kennedy, in Orlando, Florida, local authorities are hoping that a series of traps baited with the snake's favorite snacks—smaller snakes—will entice it back into captivity.
Kennedy, who stars in the reality show Airplane Repo, discovered the snake had disappeared when he returned from a two-day trip on September 1, and reported it to local authorities the following day.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission launched their search for the cobra the morning of September 3 and issued Kennedy a $366 citation for "failure to immediately report the escape of a non-indigenous venomous reptile." Kennedy had proper permits to own the king cobra, according to the commission.
Kennedy believes the snake escaped after a branch struck the roof of his garage while he was away, creating a hole and allowing water to seep in. The snake's habitat was damaged by the water, which widened the gap between the snake's cage and netting, allowing it to slither out, he says.
Authorities have stepped up their efforts to find the snake a week into the search. Greg Workman, spokesman for the commission, says the search team has placed additional traps and is keeping a vigilant watch of the area.
"We are going day-by-day to do what we can in hopes that when he does get hungry, he smells the food and he comes to the traps," Workman told Newsweek. In order to ensure the snake is attracted to the scent of the bait, the commission has kept humans out of the area as much as possible to keep their scent at bay. The cobra is very shy, according to Kennedy, and unlikely to come out near humans.
With the search going on for so long, there is a chance the cobra is long gone from the search perimeter, has found a new habitat or has been killed by a predator. Nonetheless, there are no immediate plans to stop looking, Workman said.
The search is an unusual one for the commission, according to Workman. "A cobra search is not common. I'm not sure how many we've done in the past, but this is not normal."
King cobras are rarely owned as pets, but in Florida it is legal to do so if the owner has the proper permits. Kennedy maintains the cobra was not a pet, saying his property houses a "sanctuary rescue facility" with "most of the animals we rescue [coming] from the state of Florida." Kennedy told Newsweek that he has other animals in his facility but did not specify if he owned any more cobras. King cobras primarily live in the wild, where they can grow up to 18 feet long. The venom in a single cobra bite is powerful enough to kill an elephant, or 20 people.
Neighbors have been notified to keep an eye out for the cobra, as have officials at a nearby school. As many as 14 commission officers have been involved in the search, which Kennedy called "over the top" in its scope. "Everything that can possibly be done is being done—fox traps, infrared technology and teams of people searching," Kennedy says.
Workman said the search is perfectly appropriate given the circumstances. "We are trying to make every effort possible to get this non-native snake out of our native woods. I don't think it's overboard," he said. "We are doing our due diligence."