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Zoo Closed After "Houdini" King Cobra Stages Escapes From Terrarium

It came back after a week on the run.

A zoo in Stockholm, Sweden, was forced to partially close after a giant King cobra escaped from its enclosure just days after it was first brought to the zoo. Sir Vas (Sir Hiss) has now been renamed Houdini in honor of his tricky escapist ways—and zoo workers were on the hunt for the sneaky snake for over a week until it returned back home by itself.

Jonas Wahlstrom, director of the Skansen Aquarium, says they have been housing King Cobras for more than 15 years, and this is the only one to figure a way out. "It turned out to be clever," he joked. Here's how the snake managed to pull a Houdini, and what will happen next.

Hidden In the Aquarium


Wahlstrom says the Aquarium has brought in extra cameras to try and find the slippery reptile. Flour has also been scattered all over the floors in the hope the cobra will leave tracks that lead to its hiding place. Sticky traps and sewage cameras are also being deployed to hunt down the fearsome fugitive.

Clever Snake

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So how did the snake escape? Apparently, the staff replaced the terrarium lightbulb with a lower-energy bulb, which meant the snake wasn't afraid to get close to it. "The old light was so hot that no snake wanted to get close," Wahlstrom says. "But now it's not hot at all and the new king cobra discovered this and wedged its head in between the lightbulb and the light fixture and managed to push itself out."

Zoo Evacuation

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Video footage shows a frightened person asking, "Is it safe to be here?" to one of the aquarium employees, who said, "No, but we're working on it." The reptile area of the zoo was evacuated for the safety of visitors, and won't be opened until the cobra has been found and safely locked up again. Staff believed the snake was hiding somewhere in an inner ceiling.

Swedish Winter


According to Wahlstrom, there was little danger of the snake making its way outside. For one thing, snakes don't like the cold, and if it did make it out of the zoo, it wouldn't get far. "It won't get out, but hypothetically it's also so cold outside that it would doze off immediately," Wahlstrom says, adding that cobras are fairly calm and not likely to attack.

Cautious Cobras


Despite their fearsome appearance, King cobras are more cautious than most snakes and much less likely to attack humans. "Throughout its entire range from India to Indonesia, the king cobra causes fewer than five human deaths a year, about one-fifth as many as caused by rattlers in North America," according to the Smithsonian's National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute. "This behavior is not true of nesting females, which may attack without provocation. When in a threat display, these snakes can raise the anterior part of their body about three to four feet (1 to 1.2 meters) off the ground and are able to follow their enemy in this position over considerable distances."

The Cobra Returns

The king cobra (Ophiophagus hannah), also known as the hamadryad, is a species of venomous snake in the family Elapidae, endemic to forests from India through Southeast Asia.

Fortunately, the cobra decided to come back yesterday. "Houdini, as we named him, has crawled back into his terrarium," Wahlstrom told the Swedish public broadcaster SVT on Sunday.

"As a result of an intensive search with X-ray machines, Houdini was located earlier this week in a confined space near the terrarium in the insulation between two walls," AP reported. After an intensive search that included X-ray machines, the cobra was located in a confined space near the terrarium in the insulation between two walls. "It was too stressful for Houdini with all the holes in the walls, so he wanted to go home again," Wahlstrom told SVT.

Ferozan Mast
Ferozan Mast is a science, health and wellness writer with a passion for making science and research-backed information accessible to a general audience. Read more
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