Deadly snake story could in fact be fish tale

A 5-foot-long poisonous Gaboon viper snake found in Maine.

This is just what Mount Pleasant folks need - something else trying to kill them.

If rabid foxes and coyotes who can't afford to live on Sullivan's Island weren't enough, now there is allegedly a deadly Gaboon viper on the loose.

The name alone is enough to strike fear in the hearts of suburbanites.

On Monday, a three-week search for the errant African native was called off out of fear for the searchers' safety. Seems there is some concern that if the snake were to bite someone, there may be no antivenin available because of government regulations.

That's perfect.

Of course, if the snake is out there it needs to be found. It's an invasive species - kind of an illegal alien - and there is no record it has paid the annual HOA fees required to live in Mount Pleasant.

But there's no reason for panic. No one has actually seen this snake.

Someone just found a freshly molted skin from a Gaboon outside the Harbor Pointe Apartments.

It's curious, and certainly a cause for caution, but there is no reason to jam up the bridges leading out of town.

In fact, some snake experts think this is complete and utter bullsnake.

"If there was a Gaboon that somehow got loose, which I don't believe, it is dead by now," says James Sargent, who works with the Snake Chaser in Myrtle Beach.

The Gaboon viper is a notoriously passive reptile. Usually, they lie in one spot and wait for prey to come to them. They aren't out stalking schoolchildren because, well, kids are too big for a three-foot snake to eat. Plus, they're lazy.

And frankly, most snakes are scaredy cats.

"Snakes are afraid of everything," Sargent says. "They are very fearful because everything in the world is trying to eat them."

Sargent and the Snake Chaser rounds up various reptiles for folks around the Lowcountry. They will tell you there are plenty of other snakes to be more concerned about. Copperheads are the most common - five people were bitten at Myrtle Beach's state park last year, Sargent says. But you pretty much have to step on them to get attacked - they'd much rather run away.

Snakes do not stand their ground, except for maybe the cottonmouth. Probably because they can't hold a gun - no hands.

Rattlesnakes are fairly rare in developed areas, but they are out there, too. If you find a coral snake, buy a lottery ticket - and stay very far away from it.

Sargent - who owns more than 100 venomous snakes - says people in the reptile community are incredibly skeptical of this Gaboon story.

For one, there is no way a Gaboon viper came to Charleston by stowing away on a ship. They aren't climbers. They also, in parlance, are not "escape artists." They will sit in a cage and wait for you to feed them until they die.

And it's unlikely anyone would turn such a snake loose because there are plenty of people willing to pay $350 for such a creature.

Even in the unlikely event that a Gaboon busted out, it would not live long.

Sargent says Gaboons cannot survive in the cold temperatures, the 30s and 40s, that fell on the South Carolina coast earlier this month.

If the snake didn't freeze to death, then the rain forest native almost certainly caught a respiratory infection from which it could not recover.

So, chances are the Gaboon that ate Mount Pleasant is just a myth, or at least a false alarm.

Sargent believes the truth could be that someone with a Gaboon for a pet threw away the skin and it blew out of the trash.

It's not like they would want to 'fess up to keeping a venomous snake. South Carolina is not especially tolerant - even though snakes write plenty of our laws.

A few people believe the skin was set out as a joke, a not very funny one. Could be.

That doesn't mean people don't need to be careful. But if you don't mess with snakes, they probably won't mess with you. Sargent says if you come across one, walk away. When you return, it'll be gone.

So just be careful, but don't live in fear. If there was a Gaboon viper roaming Mount Pleasant, by now it is probably another victim of something else many people don't believe in - climate change.

That, or it has been killed by a coyote headed for Sullivan's Island.

Reach Brian Hicks at