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TikTok star charged after his poisonous snake escaped for seven months

The Independent logo The Independent 08/07/2021 Graig Graziosi
a woman in a forest: Christian Michael Gifford, 21, faces 40 misdemeanor charges in Raleigh, North Carolina after his pet zebra cobra, a venomous snake, escaped and was on the loose for seven months. - screengrab © screengrab

Christian Michael Gifford, 21, faces 40 misdemeanor charges in Raleigh, North Carolina after his pet zebra cobra, a venomous snake, escaped and was on the loose for seven months.

- screengrab

A TikTok star from North Carolina has been charged after police found his venomous snake seven months after it had gone missing.

Christian Michael Gifford, 21, was charged with counts of allegedly violating the state's rules concerning the ownership of venomous reptiles

Mr Gifford is well known on TikTok for posting videos in which he handles a variety of poisonous snakes.

The snake, a zebra cobra, was located and captured last week in a neighborhood in Raleigh, according to local broadcaster WRAL.

According to the broadcaster, a neighbor spotted the snake outside their home and called in a report to the local police.

After the snake sighting, other neighbors began staying inside their homes.

Once the zebra cobra was found, investigators raided Mr Gifford's home, where they removed several venomous reptiles.

Mr Gifford faces 36 misdemeanor counts for keeping dangerous reptiles in containers without locks. The other four deal with mislabeling his containers.

One of the counts against Mr Gifford notes that the cobra has been loose since November, and that Mr Gifford did not notify law enforcement that it had escaped, as is required under North Carolina law.

The state is one of only six that do not outright ban the private ownership of venomous snakes or require owners to have permits in order to possess them. While the law allows their ownership, there are still responsibilities for owners who wish to stay within the bounds of the law.

Owners of venomous reptiles must house them in secure enclosures with warning signs as well as notifying the police if one were to escape.

According to law enforcement, the snake was found outside a neighbor's home after it managed to escape its cage at Mr Gifford's house.

Police used a glue trap to capture the snake.

David Knight, a Raleigh city council member, told the broadcaster that the issue, while strange, is no joke.

"Some have made light of the zebra cobra issue, but it could've ended tragically, and I think we got to take this issue very seriously," he said.

Mr Gifford has not commented publicly on the charges or the confiscation of his reptiles. He routed all inquiries and statements through his attorney, Anna Felts.

"Clearly, he's stressed. He hasn't faced any charges like this before," she said. "Although they are minor in nature ... it's clearly stressful on his family."

According to the attorney, Mr Gifford felt sorry for the incident and understood the danger his snake posed to his neighbors.

Mr Knight said the incident has led him to reconsider Raleigh's ordinances regarding the private ownership of venomous snakes.

"Using the best model of those that we think would be appropriate for Raleigh, I'm looking at banning the private and personal possession of these types of dangerous animals," Mr Knight said. "We need to learn from this experience. We need to thank God that this incident did not end tragically."

Mr Gifford will face his charges in court on 6 August.

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