Streams

Snake Wrangler Details the Art of Capturing a Cobra

Thursday, March 31, 2011

The same day the Bronx Zoo cobra was captured after it vanished for nearly a week, professional reptile wrangler Shaun Heflick weighed in and said New Yorkers never had much to worry about.

"This is a young one, this is a juvenile, a sub-adult, so it's really going to want to get away from humans more than be the aggressor or molest them or bite them," said Heflick, who is Florida-based and starred in the PBS nature program "Invasion of the Giant Python."

The director of the Bronx Zoo said the key strategy in recovering the snake was patience because snakes are naturally shy and secretive. The 20-inch venomous critter weighed only 3 ounces and is intrinsically anti-social.

"The bite tends to be that last-case scenario where they've been cornered or they're stepped on or they feel frightened as strange as that sounds," said Heflick, who is regularly called by the police department in his town to rescue snakes.

Heflick said his most harrowing encounter involved getting a Black Momba out of the internal workings of a washing machine.

The herpetologist tool belt involves a snake hook ("It's like dealing with spaghetti on a fork," he said), snake tongs and a snake bag. Jim Breheny, director of Bronx Zoo, said they lured the escaped snake back into captivity with wood shavings that mice and rats had used.

Though the Twitter account @BronxZooCobra drew more than 200,000 Twitter followers, Breheny said he didn't want to be "distracted by the lightheartedness." The snake seems healthy and is currently under evaluation. Zoo officials said they hope to have the Reptile House re-open to the public next week.

A history of animal escapes in the city:

July 28, 1902

A Mexican Black Panther escaped from the Bronx Zoo. The Times reported that the seven month old had gnawed apart two planks and jumped out on Monday morning. He was caught later that night, found a mile and a half away.

June 30, 1905

The Times reports that the Bronx Zoo has its second snow leopard escape in two years. The first, they say, was shot dead after an all night leopard-hunt. Later that year, its mate, “the only specimen left in America,” escaped. Zoo keepers found the leopard the next morning crouched in a basement corner of the lion house. It was not shot.

May 21, 1935

She is described by reporters as “the irrepressible little Indian sun bear,” and went on a “spring rampage,” escaping from the Central Park Zoo for over an hour the Times reported. The 8 year-old bear is reported to have “nipped a straying finger” of a patrolman, who in turn, used his nightstick to hit the bear with a “well-directed blow.” After being subdued with more blows, the bear was tied up and returned.

September 15, 1941

The Times called it “Otter Confusion,” when a female otter absconded in the middle of the night. She was found at nearby pool not far away.

October 27, 1968

A deer from the Central Park zoo got loose, racing around the city. The 180-pound deer was finally captured on 12th Ave. and 68th Street. The deer was captured without injury.

July 19, 1979

The Times reports three monkeys escape from the Central Park Zoo. “They were just out on a lark like a bunch of kids,” the park veterinarian told the paper. They didn’t go far, and were quickly retrieved.

September 22, 1979

A pet store monkey named Jocko from South America escapes from the Bloomingdale Brothers’ department store. The Times reported that he turned up later at the Central Park zoo rattling the other monkey cages. Lured by a banana, Jocko was returned to the store later that day.

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