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Rattlesnake that bit teenager finds home in Winston-Salem

Karma, an eastern rattlesnake, who bit a teenager last month in Reidsville, is exercised by its present caretaker Chad Griffin, Tuesday, March 11, 2014. Griffin is a reptile rescuer who has been given custody of the animal. (Walt Unks/Journal)

Karma, an eastern rattlesnake, who bit a teenager last month in Reidsville, is exercised by its present caretaker Chad Griffin, Tuesday, March 11, 2014. Griffin is a reptile rescuer who has been given custody of the animal. (Walt Unks/Journal)

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — The rattlesnake that bit a teenager last month in Reidsville likely will spend the rest of its life in eastern Winston-Salem.

“It will live the rest of its days right here at the rescue center,” said Chad Griffin, a herpetologist who operates the CCSB Reptile Rescue Rehabilitation Center at his home off Reidsville Road.

A state wildlife resources officer took the timber, or canebrake, rattlesnake to Griffin’s center in late February after it bit Kameron Burgess, 18, who lives in the Ruffin community in eastern Rockingham County.

Burgess was bitten on his arm at the Reidsville home of a friend who has a collection of poisonous snakes. They were returning the rattlesnake to its enclosure when it bit Burgess. He was treated at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.

Kaleb Williamson, 18, of Reidsville was cited for violating Rockingham County’s animal ordinance.

Karma, the rattlesnake that bit Burgess, is among 80 snakes that Griffin keeps at his rescue center. He has about 120 reptiles, including crocodiles and turtles.

Griffin lives with his wife, Cristina, and their two sons, Sabastian and Balian, in the house, which is above the reptile center.

Sgt. Carey Bostic, a state wildlife resource officer in Forsyth County, said that Griffin can legally keep Karma as long as Griffin meets the conditions of his permit.

Among the requirements, Griffin must keep the snakes in containers that are bite-proof and labeled with the scientific and common names of the snakes, including whether they are venomous, Bostic said.

Griffin must also have information about the nearest location of anti-venom in case of a snake bite.

It is unlawful to possess canebrake rattlesnakes or to keep them as pets, said Sgt. Mark Cagle, a wildlife resources officer in Eastern North Carolina. It is also illegal to kill canebrake rattlesnakes since they are on the special-concern species list of the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission.

Griffin estimated that Karma, a female, is about 4 years old. It is about 3 feet long and weighs about 1½ pounds, he said.

Timber rattlesnakes, which can live up to 25 years, are found in North Carolina in mostly unpopulated areas, such as rocky hillsides, fields, woodland areas and swamps, according to the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service.

Karma has a grayish body with black stripes and a brown strip down its spine. Griffin said he feeds Karma a small rat about once a week.

Griffin said he didn’t know how the teenagers in Rockingham County acquired Karma, but rattlesnakes generally can be bought for $30 at exotic pet shows or from wholesale reptile breeders in the South, he said.

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