gaboon-viper-584

Gaboon vipers are known for their long fangs and deadly venom, but are normally docile. ((L.T. Shears/Wikipedia))

A Winnipeg man is receiving medical treatment after being bitten by an African snake on Sunday.

A friend drove the 31-year-old St. Vital resident to hospital after he was bitten in the face by a gaboon viper around 6 p.m. Sunday, police said.

The man was knowledgeable about the snake, police said. He told hospital officials what had happened, and how much time they had to get antivenin to him.

The antivenin was flown to Winnipeg from Toronto.

Dr. Pierre Plourde, a medical officer of health with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, compared the tissue damage caused by the snake's venom to necrotizing fasciitis or flesh-eating disease.

"I know that sounds horrible, but this venom is one of the most toxic of all venoms in African snakes," he said. "It can destroy tissue very rapidly, and so much so that sometimes the lifesaving procedure is amputation if you're bitten on the leg or on the arm."

The man's condition had deteriorated to critical before the antivenin arrived, police said, but by Monday morning his condition had been upgraded to "guarded but unstable."

Snake's whereabouts unknown

The victim lost consciousness before speaking to police, Const. Jacqueline Chaput said Monday, but investigators did have a chance to speak to his friend.

Police are still looking for the snake, but Chaput says the public shouldn't be worried.

"We don't know where the snake is at this point, but indications are somebody is in possession of the snake, that it's not just randomly out there," she said.

Police searched the victim's home and did not find the animal there.

"It is our understanding that he has had a lifelong interest in reptiles, but there is no indication that there were any reptiles in his residence," Chaput said. "We can confirm that it did not occur at his residence, however, where it occured we have yet to confirm."

'Not very concerned'

The snake may have been living with someone outside the city, Chaput said. It is illegal to keep a venomous reptile in the city of Winnipeg, but some surrounding municipalities allow their possession.

Tim Dack, chief operating officer of animal services for the City of Winnipeg, said he is "not very concerned" that the snake has not yet been located.

"A snake's not going to chase you down the street, and … it's cold weather," he said.

"If it is anywhere, it's going to be curled up someplace warm. I mean, they don't go and just prowl the streets kind of thing … so it's not something for anybody to get all upset about."

Gaboon vipers, native to the tropical rainforests of equatorial Africa, have the longest fangs of any snake and produce a large amount of venom. They are also known for their docile nature.