The Great Snake Hunt House Evacuated for Eight Weeks after Pet Cobra Vanishes

Kevin O. wanted a new pet. But the highly poisonous cobra he bought apparently didn't want him. It escaped in his apartment, leading to a week-long, 40,000-euro search for the reptile. Now, with the snake still at large, the house has been sealed off for eight weeks.

Snakes, as every schoolboy knows, can go for quite some time between meals. Even monocled cobras -- extremely poisonous, but hardly the hardiest of reptiles -- can survive up to six weeks without a bite. Which helps explain why a house in the western German city of Mülheim is being sealed off and evacuated for two months.

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Photo Gallery: Cobra Search Ends Unsuccessfully
The saga began over a week ago when amateur snake keeper Kevin O., 19, brought home his exotic new pet and installed it in a terrarium complete with the ventilation system necessary to keep the three-month old serpent toasty warm. Just a short time later, however, the snake tank was empty and its occupant was nowhere to be found. O. called the authorities.

What followed was one of the lengthiest and most expensive pet-hunts Germany has seen in recent years. The walls, floor and ceiling of O's attic apartment were dismantled and the two units on the ground floor below were also carefully searched. Flour was strewn on the floor in the hopes of collecting tracks. Strong, double-sided tape was installed to perhaps trap the cobra baby. The fire department even brought in mini-cameras to search the tightest and most inaccessible corners.

To no avail. On Sunday, the search was called off and the renters were told they would have to find alternate accommodation for eight weeks -- by which time, it is assumed, the snake will have starved to death. The house has been sealed off to cut off any possible reptilian escape routes, though the cobra is not likely to venture outdoors, say experts, due to chilly German temperatures.

A Hefty Bill

For Kevin O., however, the drama is far from over. In all, the search cost close to €40,000 -- and that's just for the fire department. There were numerous other agencies involved in the search in addition to the construction company tasked with stripping O's apartment to the studs. The owner of the house is also unlikely to be pleased with the structure's new look. Even if keeping poisonous pets is legal in Germany, it is considered likely that O. will be presented with a hefty bill.

In the meantime, the mini-cobra remains hidden. "We probably won't find the snake even in a hundred years," said a fire department spokesman on Sunday. "No matter what we do."

cgh -- with wire reports


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