It could be a very long time before the reptilian corps locates New York’s most famous serpent at large.
“It’s holed up,” said Steven Beaupre, a herpetologist and biology professor at the University of Arkansas, of the Bronx Zoo’s missing Egyptian cobra.
Unlike most New Yorkers, “snakes are not animals that get bored quickly,” and the missing reptile could spend months in hiding before it comes out looking for water or some small animal to eat, Beaupre said. The little three-ounce snake is likely so undone by its unfamiliar surroundings it may die of starvation before venturing out, he noted.
Jim Breheny, senior vice president of the Wildlife Conservation Society and director of the Bronx Zoo, conceded in a statement that the hunt is “the snake’s game. . . . Our best strategy is patience, allowing her time to come out of hiding.”
The zoo said it's confident the venomous snake remains within a nonpublic area of the Reptile House.
The months-old, 20-inch snake was discovered missing from her enclosure Friday, prompting a closure of the Reptile House and setting off a media explosion of jests (Jon Stewart joked it was another free Egyptian), igniting a mysterious Twitter persona, and fueling public speculation that recalled the urban myth of an alligator in the sewers.
“People don’t need to be terrified,” said Beaupre. “It’s terrified and hiding, probably staying close to heat sources in the building. As long as the weather stays cold, it’s unlikely to try and leave,” he added.
The Egyptian cobra is the second most venomous cobra in Africa, after the Cape Cobra, noted Bradley Lawrence, supervisor of the Herpetarium at the Dallas Zoo. But even in the unlikely event it bit someone, the Bronx Zoo would most certainly have anti-venom on hand, he said.
Anti-venom collections are notoriously expensive to maintain (the antidotes expire after a few years), but “it’s easier for zoos to get anti-venom from these foreign countries than hospitals,” said Lawrence.
Besides, Lawrence said consolingly, “there’s not a lot of pain associated with cobra bites,” which is why Cleopatra chose one as her suicide method.
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Cobra Fever sweeps city, takes over Twitter
It seems everybody wants a bite of the missing cobra action.
Since the little Egyptian cobra disappeared from the Bronx Zoo's Reptile House last Friday, the city has been hissing about the serpent. A Twitter account, @BronxZoosCobra, has drawn a legion of fans eagerly tracking the snake’s “exploits” around town, and cobra-branded merchandise such as shirts and mugs can be yours for the right price.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Ellen DeGeneres and countless others have gotten cobra fever, tweeting messages at the snake — and that instant fame isn't lost on Twitter’s most famous reptile.
"According to the rules of Twitter, I think I'm supposed to announce a multi-city comedy tour now," tweeted the “cobra.”
amNewYork asked the digital cobra why she “escaped” in the first place.
"Harry Houdini made it look fun," she responded, adding that the city is fascinated with her because "people always root for the undercobra." Read our map to see where she's been.