Around 40 more poisonous snakes were found in the man's apartment (the cobra in the photo was not one of them, however), Photo: Scanpix. Montage: Sveriges Radio.

Cobra bite underlines lack of snake import rules

A man in Gothenburg has been taken to the hospital after being bitten by one of his pet snakes.

According to experts, the rules regarding keeping such dangerous pets varies widely around Sweden.

The man, who is in his 40’s, was taken to the intensive care unit at Gothenburg’s Sahlgrenska hospital after calling emergency services Saturday evening and saying he had been bitten by a black cobra. It was just one of the 40 poisonous snakes he had in his apartment.

The man apparently had time to secure his snakes before losing consciousness, although Swedish Radio News reports that some of the snakes could have been housed in an incorrect way and the police are investigating.

Jan Westin of Gothenburg’s Universeum Science Discovery Center tells Swedish Radio the man was well-known and respected as a snake-keeper:

"He’s known in snake-keeping circles as a very knowledgeable person," he says. "He is not exactly a beginner. But accidents can always happen when you handle snakes."

Clinical toxicologist Kai Knudsen says every year there are between two and five cases of serious poisoning from cobra bites.

According to experts, there are around 120 poisonous snakes in Sweden. Jonas Wahlström, head of the Skansen Aquarium in Stockholm, says there was a big increase after the regulations were loosened here when Sweden joined the European Union.

He tells Swedish Radio News “There was a long-time import ban on retiles that came to an end overnight when we joined the EU. The ban had meant there was a large demand for such snakes, so many were imported. Most weren’t poisonous, he says, but if you’re a Swedish citizen you can bring in as many snakes as you want from another EU country, no matter how poisonous they are.”

The rules today, he says vary depending on where you live in the country.

"Some municipalities," Jonas Wahlström says, "have never seen this as a problem, and have no regulations. Others, like Stockholm allow less harmful snakes, but have a list banning dangerous ones like cobras. And some municipalities" he says, "take the easy way out and just ban all snakes."

The Gothenburg City Council abolished the permit requirement there this past February.

Jens Westin at Gothenburg’s Universeum Science Discovery Center says the rules need to be tightened:

"There ought to be some kind of driver’s licence for snakes," he says, "requiring going through some kind of training. And perhaps there ought to be a requirement for some kind of alarm in the home you could press."

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