Pubdate: Fri, 28 Sep 2007
Source: Niagara This Week (CN ON)
Copyright: 2007 Metroland Printing, Publishing and Distributing
Author: Mike Zettel


ST. CATHARINES -- The fact a highly venomous Gaboon viper was found by
Niagara Regional Police during a raid on a suspected drug dealer's
home last Friday is not surprising, said a reptile expert with the
Toronto Zoo.

These animals, though illegal in many municipalities, can be found all
across Ontario, said Bob Johnson, the zoo's curator of reptiles and

"Illegally, underground, somehow they're getting them," he said,
referring to criminals and unlicensed owners.

"You can drive across the border, buy one, bring it back in your car
and nobody would know the difference. But there are also probably
people in Ontario breeding them that we don't know of.

"There's some kind of conduit that's going on."

Following a drug bust in a commercial parking lot on Ontario Street,
the police service's morality and guns, gangs and grows units searched
a home on Four Mile Creek Road in Niagara-on-the-Lake, where they
found the snake, along with marijuana, cocaine and cannabis resin.
Police also picked up a fully automatic rifle in the style of an AK
47, two handguns and more than 1,600 rounds of ammunition.

Const. Sal Basilone said the bust resulted from a two-month
investigation also involving officers from the department in Owen
Sound, where one of the suspects resides.

In all, he said, four garbage bags full of marijuana worth more than
$100,000 was taken away, along with $5,000 worth of cocaine. In all
the value of the bust, which included a 2007 GMC pick up truck and a
2004 Ford pick up, was worth more than $200,000.

A 28-year-old Niagara man was charged for numerous drug and firearm
offences, while a 56-year-old Owen Sound man was also charged for drug
offences and breach of a recognizance.

Basilone said the snake, which was inside a glass tank covered with a
thin mesh screen, presented problems.

"They had to take some precautions inside once they got there, and
then with the assistance of the humane society as well, they were able
to bring it out," he said.

Kevin Strooband, manager of the Lincoln County Humane Society, where
the snake was held this week, said staff took few chances with the
snake and left it alone. They duct taped the screen to the tank,
covered it with a sheet and left it under a warming lamp.

"You don't want to mess with this one," he said, adding he's not sure
whether the snake had its venom removed.

The Gaboon viper is from West Africa and is one of the most highly
venomous snakes on the planet. With its five-centimetre fangs, the
longest of any, it delivers the largest poison dose of any venomous

Johnson said it's a failure at the provincial and federal levels of
government that exotic animals such as the Gaboon viper are regulated
at the municipal level, leading to a variety of different rules.

St. Catharines, for example, has an exotic animal bylaw banning the
snake, while Niagara-on-the-Lake, where it was found, does not. On
Monday night, Niagara-on-the-Lake councillor Bob Howes suggested a
bylaw be passed, and council directed staff to look into it.

Johnson said many owners don't take the proper storage precautions and
don't keep the required anti-venom on hand in case of an emergency.
Just last fall, he said, a St. Catharines owner was bitten by a
similar viper, requiring him to arrange for an emergency delivery of
anti-venom to the Buffalo airport.

A dose costs up to $100, and there should be between 10 and 15 vials
available in case of a bite, he said, explaining anti-venom expires
after three years.

As of press time, the viper was still at the Humane Society, though
arrangements were being made to send it to a proper facility in Niagara.
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