Illegal reptile sales offer up venomous snakes

To many people snakes are creepy critters to be avoided at all costs, but some people choose to keep slithering serpents as pets. While most pet snakes are perfectly harmless there are people who raise and keep those of the venomous variety in their homes.

Click here to see the second part of our undercover investigation.

Getting a venomous snake is not easy. During a recent reptile show in Oklahoma City a vendor told us it can be an expensive prospect due to the permits required to own venomous reptiles. In the reptile community these deadly snakes are known as "hots."

"Hot" shows are difficult to put on in Oklahoma one vendor told us, in part, due to the permits and insurance required before you can display venomous snakes. However, purchasing a venomous snake is much cheaper if you know the right people.

During our investigation, Fox 25 was eventually introduced to a vendor who offered to sell us rattlesnakes. The man said he had a variety of rattlesnakes, some of which are native to Oklahoma and many native to other parts of the southwest.

The vendor initially told us he had baby Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes, a native species that has a bite that can be fatal. The dealer said he would charge us just $15 for each Diamondback baby. He also offered Sidewinder Rattlesnakes. The Sidewinder is a less venomous snake and not considered native to Oklahoma. These snakes were offered for just $25 each.

The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife told Fox 25 the state only requires permits for native venomous species. You have to have a permit to buy, sell or own native snakes. However we were never questioned as to if we had the proper permits or if we had the experience to responsibly own a venomous snake.

We attended multiple reptile shows in Oklahoma where only legal, non-venomous snakes are allowed. Many vendors refused to talk to us about venomous snakes saying we needed permits before we considered a purchase. Other vendors told us if we wanted "hots" we needed to check out shows in Texas. We also found vendors willing to introduce us to people who could get us venomous snakes, both native and non-native.

The Department of Wildlife says any venomous snakes bought out of state require an import permit. However if venomous, non-native snakes are bred in Oklahoma there is no paperwork required. That means snakes as deadly as the King Cobra would not require any permits from the state.

The possibility of cobras being sold and bred in state is not impossible. Several snake enthusiasts told us of an Oklahoma City dealer who owned and sold cobras. Some of these cobras were reported to be "devenomed," but that surgery is rare and sometimes not permanent.

"A snake is a very difficult animal for a person to raise privately," Jack Hanna, the Director Emeritus of the Columbus Zoo, told Fox 25.

Hanna has traveled the world documenting exotic animals and he spoke to us about our investigation during a recent stop promoting conservation efforts in Oklahoma. "There are those people who say it's real cool to have a snakethis the problem, it takes a lot of work," Hanna said "In fact it takes more work to raise a snake than some of the other exotic animals."

Hanna said he supports the rights of people to own exotic animals, but believes owners should have the proper facilities before making a dangerous purchase.