Is it Legal to Keep a King Cobra as a Pet?

When news broke last week that 21-year-old Orange County resident Ali Iyoob had been bitten by his “pet” King Cobra, I had three thoughts.

  1. Who has a pet King Cobra?
  2. Where does one find a King Cobra to keep as a pet?
  3. It can’t be legal to have a King Cobra in your house. Can it?


The first question is obviously rhetorical. The answer to the second question is: the internet (of course). To answer the third question, I had to do a little research (on the internet, of course).

It turns out that it was not lawful for Ali Iyoob, the unfortunate snake-bite-victim in this story, to keep a pet King Cobra in his house. But that’s only because he lived in Orange County.  If he lived in Raleigh like me, it would be perfectly lawful for him to keep such a snake, so long as he appropriately labeled its enclosure.

Say what?

I’ve already visited  (I don’t like snakes, not even the “good” kind.)

Before all you reptile enthusiasts blast me with your incendiary comments, let me explain the law.

State law.  G.S. 14-417 makes it unlawful for a person to own, possess, use, transport, or traffic in any venomous reptile that is not housed in a sturdy and secure enclosure.

It requires that the permanent enclosures for such reptiles be “designed to be escape-proof, bite-proof, and have an operable lock.”

Containers that you carry these critters around in must likewise be “designed to be escape-proof and bite-proof.”

(This “designed to be” language causes me a little bit of heartburn, but perhaps that’s just my reptile-phobia creeping in.)

Lists and labels. If you have a venomous reptile, its enclosure must be “clearly and visibly labeled ‘Venomous Reptile Inside.’”  Somewhere on the container, the following things must be listed:  the reptile’s scientific name, its common name, the appropriate antivenin, and the owner’s identifying information. The following things must be “within sight” of such a reptile’s permanent housing:  a written bite protocol that includes emergency contact information, the local animal control office, the name and location of suitable antivenin, first aid procedures, and treatment guidelines, as well as an escape recovery plan. When the reptile travels, a copy of this information must accompany it.

Reptile alert. If a venomous reptile escapes, its owner or the person who had it “must immediately notify local law enforcement.”

Large constricting snakes. Special rules govern the ownership and use of large constricting snakes, like pythons and anacondas. G.S. 14-417.1. Those kinds of snakes have to be housed in a sturdy and secure enclosure which also must be “designed to be escape-proof” and must have a working lock. Transport containers for these snakes must likewise be “designed to be escape-proof.” Here too, written safety protocols and an escape recovery plan must be kept in sight of the permanent housing. And the owner or possessor of a large constricting snake must immediately notify local law enforcement if the snake escapes.

Who would keep a crocodile? Similar rules govern the keeping of crocodiles or, more precisely, crocodilians. G.S. 14-417.2.

Penalties. Violation of the venomous reptile, large constricting snake, or crocodilian laws is a Class 2 misdemeanor. G.S. 14-422. If anyone other than the creature’s owner or a member of his immediate family suffers a life threatening injury or is killed as a result of a violation of these laws, the owner of the reptile is guilty of a Class A1 misdemeanor.

Orange County ordinance. Orange County picked up where the General Assembly left off.  It adopted an ordinance prohibiting the keeping of any “wild and dangerous animal” within the county. Poisonous, crushing and giant reptiles are defined as wild and dangerous animals.

According to this news report, Iyoob violated this ordinance on numerous counts. Eighteen venomous snakes were removed from his home.

While violation of the Orange County ordinance is a Class 3 misdemeanor, I’m guessing that criminal prosecution is among the least of Iyoob’s worries as he struggles to recover from his injuries.

Ok, reptile enthusiasts, you can have at me now. Just keep your venomous snakes at bay—and out of Orange County.

18 thoughts on “Is it Legal to Keep a King Cobra as a Pet?”

  1. Seems to me the civil standard ought to be one of strict liability, and removing the “designed to be” language might be a move in that direction. Class A1 M seems too little to me for a death, especially if the death is of child.

  2. When the state presents “Exhibit A” in their case, do you suppose everyone will quickly stipulate to a photograph being sufficient for evidentiary purposes?

    • I recall a case in Dallas, TX in the 1980’s in which a “pet” Boa Constrictor (not poisonous) killed and ate a baby who lived in the apartment. One can only hope the killing came before the eating. The shake’s owner didn’t get around to feeding it.

    • Snakes cannot be poisonous. When you bite/eat something and you die, it is poisonous. If it bites you and you die, then it is venomous. Sorry to be “that guy” but it irritates me when people say snakes are poisonous.

      • Ash, you are wrong- according to the dictionary-(of an animal) producing poison as a means of attacking enemies or prey; venomous.
        adjective: poisonous
        “a poisonous snake”
        synonyms: venomous, deadly
        “a poisonous snake”

        • Beverly you need to get a better reference than a dictionary. It requires context. Venom in injected, poison is ingested. sticklers try to say that if you are envenomated than in fact your are “poisoned” in the systemic sense. That doesn’t mean that snakes are poisonous as they are venomous as are spiders. The fact that a cursory google search gave you the answer you were seeking doesn’t mean that it is correct. I am assuming that is the “google dictionary’ Google once again the purveyor of misinformation.

  3. You may call this a pet snake but the truth is that no snake is really a pet, especially not a venomous one. Some of the non-venomous ones will tolerate us handling them but that is all it truely is. They Tolerate us. Venomous ones? the chances are slim to none that they will tolerate you. My defination of a pet is an animal that enjoys your love to them and maybe even returns some affection. This does not describe a snake’s interpetation of your interactoins. Before you all blast me, I keep 12 snakes in my home and they only tolerate me.

    • Of course you can call a snake a pet. That is a profoundly absurd comment. You can say that snakes are not domesticated but that doesn’t make them not a pet. I think you need to actually understand definition of what the word pet means. Your definition of a pet is in conflict with the established definition of a pet. Incidentally the fact that a snake has venom has no bearing on it’s ability to tolerate handling but that’s another argument entirely. Just as a matter of point the fact that you keep 12 snakes in your home doesn’t mean you are credible. lot’s of people keep lots of animals while not providing for the proper husbandry or having actual knowledge of them. But if we are dropping credentials I also keep snakes including a venomous one and have kept snakes for over 40 years. I do agree that they are not going to provide affection but that is not the definition of a pet.

  4. I live outside of Beaumont, Texas and a man in an apartment was bitten by his let cobra. He didn’t call 911 he called a friend of his who has an alligator sanctuary. His friend then called 911 and they responded and had him life flighted to Houston.
    Here’s where I have a problem with is, he lived in an apartment complex, he didn’t have to register with the city or state and his neighbors weren’t notified of it.
    Then top it all off the man had no insurance….so guess who picked up his medical expenses!


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