Toronto Animal Services investigating after cobra bites man, 29, in Peterborough, Ont.

Toronto Animal Services is investigating after a 29-year-old man was bitten by a venomous monocled cobra at a Peterborough, Ont., residence on Wednesday night.

Ontario prohibits ownership of deadly snakes, but experts say there could be 'thousands' here

A 29-year-old man was bitten by a monocled cobra, like the one pictured here, on Wednesday night. (Los Angeles Zoo via Associated Press)

Toronto Animal Services is investigating after a 29-year-old man was bitten by a venomous cobra at a Peterborough, Ont., residence on Wednesday night. 

According to the agency, the man received medical treatment at Scarborough and Rouge Hospital and is currently recovering there.

When asked by CBC Toronto about the whereabouts of the deadly snake, Toronto Animal Services spokesperson Tammy Robbinson would not confirm if investigators have located it, saying they are "currently investigating this incident."  It wasn't immediately clear why the Toronto-based agency was leading the probe.

The Toronto Zoo's reptile and amphibian specialist Dr. Andrew Lentini said the victim has been working with reptiles for years and was helping a friend with a shipment of these animals when he was bitten. 

"Apparently, the cobra wasn't something they were expecting and you handle venomous snakes different than non-venomous and I guess he was bitten during the course of those activities," he said.  

The snake that bit the man is a monocled cobra from South Asia, Lentini said, adding that the species is linked to a number of deaths each year because of the potency of its venom. 

"It is one of the more lethal snakes out there," he said.  

Anti-venom saves man's life

The man arrived in the hospital's emergency department at 10 p.m. ET Wednesday and staff reached out to the Ontario Poison Centre after learning he was suffering from a snake bite. 

Lentini received a call from the provincial agency requesting anti-venom from the zoo's supply to save the man's life. He arrived at the hospital an hour later to assist staff. 

"When I arrived and during my discussions with this young man, it became apparent the neurological effects of the venom were definitely setting in," Lentini said. 

"He was starting to experience muscle weakness and he was losing control of his eyelids and his eye muscles and his speech was becoming a little bit heavy. He was starting to basically experience paralysis, which from these snake bites spreads until all the muscles are affected." 

He added that if venomous snake bites aren't treated they can be fatal, explaining the venom causes victims to go into respiratory failure. 

The Toronto Zoo says it stocks anti-venom to ensure the health and safety of staff in case they are bitten by venomous snakes at its east end facility.  

"Quite honestly, that's what saved his life," said Lentini.

Privately-owned venomous snakes illegal in Ontario

In Ontario, private ownership of all venomous snakes is illegal without official approval under provincial law. Robbinson says possession of these prohibited animals is subject to a fine of $240. Municipalities in the province have passed bylaws banning dangerous exotic animals, largely to protect native species.

But the Toronto Zoo says many of these venomous reptiles are kept in private collections throughout the province. In the last decade, Lentini says he has witnessed at least seven similar incidents in the Greater Toronto Area. 

"A lot of these animals are brought in illegally and they are shipped in absolutely horrible conditions," he said. 

Earlier this year, Elizabeth Glibbery, director of Toronto Animal Services, said the city is reviewing its prohibited animals bylaw to decide whether to add or remove various species from its list.

"It's really hard to gauge how many of these snakes are out there. It's my opinion that there are hundreds, if not thousands  

About the Author

Amara McLaughlin

Online reporter, CBC Toronto

Amara McLaughlin is a digital journalist at CBC Toronto. Originally from Alberta, she began her journalism career in Calgary but now calls Toronto home. She has also worked in Jerusalem, Washington, D.C. and Hamilton, Ont.