Last year, a man from North Carolina survived an attack from a gaboon viper he kept in his home. The medical team who treated him said they had never seen anyone else survive such a venomous snake bite. In fact, the gaboon viper is one of the most venomous snakes in the world, and the victim needed 44 doses of anti-venom to recover, the most doses the experts overseeing his cases had ever needed to use. He lost two fingers in the process but had no other negative effects. 
Gaboon Viper: One of the Most Venomous Snake in the World
Although their bites can be fatal, gaboon vipers tend to have a calm disposition and rarely bite people. And good thing, because they have the longest fangs of all the venomous snakes, at 2 inches (5 centimeters) long. They are also the largest vipers in their native home of Africa. They can grow to over 6 feet (1.8 meters) and weigh over 45 pounds (20 kilograms). The largest ones can have heads almost 6 inches (15 centimeters) wide. 
They live in rainforests and wet areas all over Africa, slithering over the forest floor to hunt. They usually eat small or medium-sized mammals and birds. But they are not active hunters. Rather, they wait in hiding, taking advantage of their natural brown, prink, purple-patterned stripes and diamonds to camouflage with their surroundings. Their unique patterns can resemble fallen leaves, letting them hide among scattered leaves on the ground. When prey come within range, the viper strikes and holds it until it dies.
The rare times they bite humans usually occur when the snakes are stepped on before they can escape. If they feel threatened, they will lift their heads and hiss threateningly before they would strike. They hunt by themselves and at night, being most active around sunset. 
The vipers can also control how much venom gets injected into its victim, so some bites can have no effect while others cause a hasty death. When they are particularly hungry, they can attack almost any movement, another instance where they might accidentally attack a human. And while most snakes lay eggs, these vipers reproduce by giving birth, often to 50 to 60 babies at once. They also can have a relatively long lifespan, living for about 20 years.
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The Danger of Exotic Pet Snakes
A similar case to the man in North Carolina occurred soon after in Virginia, where another man was bitten by his pet gaboon viper. The police department had to request an “expedited delivery” of anti-venom from the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center in addition to the anti-venom from the Smithsonian National Zoo. “The concern is with these snakes that are not endemic to our area — are not native to our area — is if these patients require treatment with anti-venom, is trying to locate the anti-venom and then trying to get it to the health care facility,” said Natasha Tobarran, D.O., with Virginia Poison Center.
Zoos and aquariums keep these exotic anti-venoms as a safety precaution for the employees caring for these non-native species. “The Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center provided 35 doses of anti-venom for emergency transport by state police to the VCU Medical Center,” said Mackenzie Di Nardo with the aquarium.
Fortunately, it’s rare to get a snake bite while in nature. “The majority of the snakes that you find, especially in your backyard, or in your crawlspace or wherever, even sometimes make their way into people’s garages, are completely harmless. The other big thing is that snakes, in general by nature, are not aggressive animals,” said Kortney Jaworski, Herpetology Curator at the Virginia Living Museum.
Additionally, in the rare case of a snake bite, local hospitals are equipped with anti-venom for species in the area. “None of the old wives’ tales apply. So don’t try to suck the venom out. Don’t cut it open. Don’t, don’t put a tourniquet on it. Especially don’t put a tourniquet on it because basically what you’re doing is isolating that toxin,” said Jaworski. She added that exotic pets require a special permit but they also come with the risks of unattainable or hard-to-attain treatment in cases of emergency. 
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- “Myrtle Beach doctor, paramedic save man from possible ‘worst viper bite ever survived’.” WDPE. Connor Ingalls. March 8, 2022
- “Gaboon viper.” Smithsonian National Zoo.
- “Gaboon viper.” National Geographic. March 2, 2023
- “Police race to save man bitten by own pet snake, one of deadliest in the world.” Wavy. Julius Ayo. March 27, 2022