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Owner could face charges for venomous snakes

Published July 29, 2013 7:09 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A Utah man whose venomous snakes gave firefighters a surprise last week may face misdemeanor charges for keeping the serpents without a permit, authorities said Monday.

Firefighters arrived Friday to a Clearfield duplex on a call of a blaze started by a kitchen range and discovered more than flames — 28 snakes, six of them deadly.

They found the snakes inside cages in a separate room.

"I don't think firefighters were ever in danger from the snakes, except for the creep factor," said North Davis Fire Chief Mark Becraft.

Fire and smoke damage left the duplex uninhabitable, Becraft said, but all the snakes survived.

They were removed as firefighters quickly put out the blaze. The six poisonous snakes were confiscated by the Utah Division of Wildlife, where Capt. Tony Wood was trying to determine their fate — and whether to cite the owner.

"I'm just trying to wrap my head around the situation," Wood said Monday.

The man took good care of his snakes, officials said Monday, but he didn't have a permit for six venomous snakes — five rattlers and a gaboon viper. The viper, native to Africa, is considered one of the most dangerous in the world with potent venom.

The owner took his 22 other legal snakes for safekeeping to his father's house, said Davis County Animal Control Director Clint Thacker.

The seized rattlers will probably be released into the wild, and the viper could be sent to someone authorized to have it, said Jim Dix of Reptile Rescue of Tooele County. He was called to remove the snakes from the duplex.

The owner has been described variously by officials as a snake professional or breeder. Dix said the snakes were well fed, in good condition and that there was no threat to anyone in the neighborhood.

He is often called to rescue exotic animals that get loose or are let go.

"We are seeing a big increase in illegal animals in Utah," Dix said Monday. "It just goes on and on."

Dix said he was working with Utah officials to designate "amnesty" days for unlicensed owners who are willing to turn over exotic animals.

Earlier this year, Cottonwood Heights police cited a young man for failure to have an exotic pet permit and initially ordered him to get rid of all but one of the 29 boa constrictors he kept in a special room with top-of-the-line cages in his basement.

The Cottonwood Heights City Council later gave him a reprieve, allowing Thomas Cobb to keep his snakes while officials revisit the city code.

Cobb still has the snakes he says are worth $12,000 apiece, and is waiting a resolution from city officials, said Cottonwood Heights police Sgt. Mark Askerlund.