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Bronx Zoo visitors leery of missing cobra

Wire • Mar 30, 2011 at 1:06 PM

As the search continued Tuesday for a runaway cobra at the Bronx Zoo, plenty of visitors said they planned to steer clear of the reptile house, where experts believe the poisonous snake may be holed up.

Beverly Peutz and her grandchildren, Cecilia Peutz, 10, of Atlanta, and Mataio Stearns, 4, of Manhattan, were not among them. The trio chose to eat their lunch right outside the building, where an understated sign in the window informed visitors "We are very sorry but the Reptile House is closed today."

"Actually we sat here purposely," Peutz, of Beaufort, S.C., said. "We're just waiting here, hanging out, hoping to see the cobra go by."

Mataio, particularly unconcerned, was tossing chunks of bread at his feet.

"We came to go snake hunting," explained his cousin, Cecilia. But she and her grandmother conceded that if she did see the snake, she would stand still so it wouldn't detect her movement, and then inform the zoo.

If the Twitter account "BronxZoosCobra" was to be believed, the runaway reptile was actually a few miles south, kicking up its heels (if snakes had heels) at Manhattan's tourist destinations between tweets. The account had about 71,150 followers by Tuesday afternoon.

Zoo officials said they would not be making daily statements about the snake, referring questions Tuesday to a Monday news release that said, "Right now, it's the snake's game."

Zookeepers are conducting daily sweeps, and have "implemented a system for tracking any movement," Bronx Zoo director Jim Breheny said in that statement. The snake, according to the release, is likely hidden in a closed-in space among the reptile house's "pumps, motors and other mechanical systems," and will emerge when she is hungry. Though she weighs less than 3 ounces, that may take "days or even weeks."

Chantal Freitag of Manhattan said she was less concerned for her own safety ("It wouldn't be like a tiger on the loose") than for the snake's. "I'm more nervous it wouldn't survive in the cold," she said.

But Nicole Alifante of New Rochelle, N.Y., felt otherwise.

"I find it a little scary," said Alifante, at the zoo with a friend and their 4-year-old children. But the thought that the cobra was confined to the reptile house was comforting, she added. "If it was out roaming the grounds, if I could get a private tour guide -- with a shotgun."

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(c) 2011, Newsday.

By Melanie Lefkowitz - Newsday (MCT)

Visit Newsday online at http://www.newsday.com/.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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