How easy is it to ship deadly cargo?

Reported by Trey Paul

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - There is no law in South Carolina that makes it illegal for you to own any type of exotic animal, but how easy is it to get a deadly snake shipped right to you?

WMBF News decided to find out. We had one of the world's deadliest snakes shipped into the Myrtle Beach International Airport.

For about half a day, WMBF News Anchor Trey Paul actually owned one of the world's most venomous snakes: a gaboon viper. They have the largest fangs of any snake and some of the most venom.

All we had to do was go online. We found a website that gave us access to dozens of venomous snakes that were for sale around the world.

We picked a snake, agreed on a price of $120, gave a credit card, and that was it. No one asked an age or about experience.

We had our snake delivered to the Myrtle Beach International Airport and we went inside with hidden cameras to pick it up.

We were told it would be shipped on a Delta Cargo plane, but after talking with one of the clerks at the counter, we learned our snake, which was packaged in a box, was actually shipped on a passenger plane inside of a cargo area.

"He's all the way in the back, but if a bag were to come down and bust it open or something like that, and it gets out, then what?" asked the Delta clerk.

We didn't want to open our snake in a box on our own, so we met with a local snake expert to help us out.

"A gaboon can kill a person and is potentially fatal," said Ken Alfieri. "[It's] way more dangerous than our copperheads or cottonmouths. It's not an animal you want to get bit  by and end up in the hospital with."

Alfieri is a herpetologist and is trained to handle these types of snakes. We asked him what he thought about how easy it was for us to get this snake.

"I'm sad they didn't ask your age," he commented. "That should be a requirement. Most people know what they're getting into and know what they're dealing with. It's certainly not for the beginner or novice. You hope it doesn't end up in the wrong hands."

According to a study done by researchers at the University of Florida, there are 7,000 venomous snake bites per year in the United States, 15 of which are fatal.

"If you look across the United States, nobody's ever been hurt by somebody else's venomous snake," Alfieri noted. "It's never happened in the keeping of the whole trade."

We found a 911 call from an Ohio man who was found dead after his "pet" boa constrictor wrapped around his head, and another case in 2002 in South Carolina when an 8-year old boy was bitten on the leg by his father's "pet" tiger. In Myrtle Beach, a man was cited for keeping a hyena in his backyard inside of a chain linked fence.

Dr. Jarratt Lark, an ER physician with the Grand Strand Regional Medical Center, told us that the third ever reported case of a king cobra bite also happened in Myrtle Beach.

Lark didn't treat that patient, but he did tell us that treating a venomous snake bite is not easy, especially if it's from another country, like the West African gaboon viper we purchased.

"It's kind of a chain of communication where I'd have to go down through this chain of communication, identify the venom needed, find out where the venom was, and then arrange to have the venom transferred here," Lark explained.

The federal government leaves it up to individual states and cities to decide if you can buy and keep an exotic animal. South Carolina law says you can.

"Conceivably, you could probably get a lion shipped here," says State Rep. Thad Viers (R-Horry County).

We showed Viers what we did and he called it "disturbing."

A Senate bill was introduced that would ban exotic animals, but we're told since the committee chair wasn't briefed on it, it was killed.

"Without going into the merits of why, it just seemed like it was a superficial reason why the bill did not move forward," Viers said.

South Carolina is one of nine states where you can do what we did, and our investigation proves it can happen.

Since the issue doesn't seem to be getting anywhere inside the Statehouse, Viers says he's taking a different approach. He says since the State of South Carolina gives the Department of Natural Resources the authority to regulate these types of animals, he's talking with officials about requiring training or age certification.

He says this way is a lot quicker.

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