The escape of a captive king cobra in Fort Bend County on Wednesday is an unusual occurrence. But the private possession of potentially dangerous snakes is definitely not.
Andy Maddox should know; he helped capture the escaped reptile. He’s also an employee of Pets-A-Plenty in Hockley, where he helps care for a variety of snakes, including pythons, boas and a mating pair of king cobras.
“Very carefully,” he laughed when asked how one goes about capturing a dangerous venomous snake.
While possession of a cobra, or other venomous snake or snakes over six feet in length, is not allowed in Houston city limits, all that is required in outlying counties like Harris, Montgomery and Fort Bend is a state of Texas Exotic Snake Permit that costs $20. But it’s a permit you only have to apply for after you purchase the snake from a licensed pet seller. The law, put in place in 2008, governs “all non-indigenous species (not native to Texas) venomous snakes and the following constrictors: African rock python, Asiatic rock python, green anaconda, reticulated python, and southern African python.”
“You don’t have to walk in with a permit,” said Maddox. “But if I don’t know you I won’t be dealing with you. It is very much about self-regulation in this hobby.”
“We will not sell one even if they have the permit until they have taken a handling course through us so we can evaluate somebody’s skill level and better direct them to a species that is more appropriate for them,” said Pets-A-Plenty owner Eric Haug.
Exotic pet stores are required to record the names and addresses of every buyer who purchases a snake covered by the state regulations, but they aren’t required to submit those records to the state. Individual pet stores maintain the records in the event state regulators ask to see them. By law, snake buyers then have 20 days to apply for the proper permit with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
Meanwhile pet store owners, like Suzette Stidom of S&S Exotic Animals in Houston, who sells a variety of exotics including boas and pythons, sells them with a few warnings of their own.
“They’re cute, they’re little,” she said with a small reticulated python wrapped around her hand. “I mean, this is a 3-month-old snake, but you’re looking at something that’s going to be 13 foot one day. And this is something you wouldn’t want to be in the room alone with and I certainly wouldn’t want to be.”
That’s why Haug says he keeps an 18-foot long, 160-pound reticulated python on display at his Hockley store: to remind people this is not a hobby suited for everyone.