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Deadly cobra missing from Missouri ‘Venomfest’ reptile show presumed stolen

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Egyptian Cobra

The Egyptian cobra (Naja haje) is a species in the genus Naja found in Africa. Shot in Morocco, Marrakech. Photo/123rf

MOSCOW MILLS — Boo! And hiss! But mainly hiss.

Someone apparently stole a near fully grown Egyptian cobra from Midwest Venomfest, a two-day reptile show and exposition featuring venomous snakes last weekend.

Event organizer Mickey Meyer of Troy, Missouri-based Show Me Snakes, canceled Sunday's show after a container that should have a snake in it did not.

All evidence points to a human perpetrator, rather than a reptilian escape.

"It was a sealed container. There wasn't any evidence of the snake getting out. The container the snake was in was moved over other containers. It was moved by a person — a snake didn't pick it up and move it," he said.

The missing snake is 3 1/2 to 4 feet long. Adult Egyptian cobras are typically 4 1/2 feet, though some can grow as long as 8 feet.

Egyptian cobras are among Africa's most deadly snakes, said Walter Tapondjou, a postdoctoral associate researcher at the Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida.

"They are classified as very dangerous. The venom is a neurotoxin. It paralyzes the muscles. You can literally feel your heart stop beating, and you die," he said.

Antivenoms are effective, but must be administered quickly.

Meyer believes the snake was snatched by someone who knows what he is doing. Otherwise, the level of danger is just too high, even for the potential profit. One online reptile company sells wild-caught Egyptian cobras 4 1/2 to 5 1/2 feet long for $250.

The snakes may attack humans if they feel threatened, but they typically dine on frogs, lizards, birds and small mammals, Tapondjou said.

Meyer said teams of experts spent more then 300 man-hours searching the Tri-County Sports Center, where the event was held. No evidence of a snake was found, such as dust trails or, uh, previously digested frogs, lizards, birds or small mammals.

The snakes are native to Africa, and cannot survive in chilly weather, he said.

"I have tons of safety protocols so things like this don't happen. I have to revisit my protocols and look for holes to see how this happened," Meyer said.

Show Me Snakes presents close to 200 shows a year, Meyer said. Most do not involve venomous snakes. Venomfest, where venomous snakes were sold, mainly attracted people from zoos, collectors, breeders and other professionals.

Meyer said people love to see venomous snakes, but he does not yet know whether he will continue to feature them in shows.

"It's unfortunate, but we're doing everything we can to recover the animal. We have people searching social media to see if anybody's bragging about stealing it," he said.

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