Deadly African Snake on the Loose, Has SC Community on Lockdown

A highly venomous snake, native to Africa, has been slithering around a South Carolina community, putting residents on edge.

"We walk our dogs every night and I have a flashlight with me everywhere I go, every step I take - it's scary," said Aaron Long, resident of the Harbour Pointe apartment complex in Mount Pleasant.

When a pest control company came last week to do a regular checkup on the bait boxes at the complex, the exterminator found snake skins nearby, took a picture, and reported it to the management office.

"The skin was still moist, indicating it was freshly shed," Jennifer Bailey, an employee at the Harbor Pointe Apartments, told ABC News today.

To identify the snake, the office contacted a snake expert hours later who came in and said that the skin came from a Gaboon viper, an exotic snake not indigenous to the U.S. Another local herpetologist confirmed the identity through a photograph the pest control took, Bailey said.

The skin of a Gaboon viper, found at Harbour Pointe Apartments in Mount Pleasant, S.C., April 3, 2014. (WCIV)

The Gaboon viper is a species that can grow up to six feet long, experts said. They're known to have the largest fangs, herpetologist Terry Phillip told ABC News.

While they're one of the most beautiful snakes in the world, they are highly venomous, he said. Even though the Gaboon viper usually feeds on rodents, when approached, it is defensive by nature like all snakes, he said.

"They have an incredibly loud, defensive hiss - it sounds like someone is letting a tire pressure out of a tire," Phillip said.

Bites from the viper are extremely serious, he added. The venom could cause life-threatening symptoms; it destroys blood cells, veins and tissues, Phillip said.

A bite from the Gaboon viper can be particularly dangerous because local hospital do not carry the anti-venom, he said.

To make the antidote, venom is milked from a snake and injected into a horse in small doses. Over a period of several months, the horse develops antibodies and resistance against the venom, Phillip said. Afterwards, blood is drawn from the horse and filtered for antibodies, he said. The anti-venom for this specific snake is made in Africa, which makes it hard to obtain.

The best course of action is to leave the snake alone, Phillip said. If you come across any snake, take a few steps back, and call animal control, rather than trying to capture it or tease it. He added that the Gaboon viper will not try to harm humans unless it feels threatened.

A Gaboon viper. (Panoramic Images/Getty Images)

While state laws regarding snake possession differ in every city and state, it is illegal to keep or have any poisonous reptile or any other dangerous or carnivorous wild animal in Mount Pleasant, said Inspector Chip Googe of the Mount Pleasant Police Department.

A fine for possession of such an animal can be as high as $1,092, Googe said.

Warning notices were sent out last Thursday to residents. The flier states that the snake is extremely dangerous and that it could have been a pet that escaped or come on shore from ships at the nearby port. It cautions residents to avoid bushes and be aware of the surroundings when walking outside, according to a Harbour Pointe employee.

"There hasn't been any kids outside playing since we got the notice," Long said. "I know there are snakes in our area but not like this one."

While local herpetologists and police have teamed up with the Edison Island Serpetarium to search for the Gaboon viper around the perimeters, it has not yet been found.

"We have two ponds nearby and it's moist where we live, so we think the snake will stay in the area because it originally comes from the rainforest," Bailey told ABC News.

However, employees at the apartment complex said they are expecting another snake expert to come later this week to help with the search. Meanwhile, officers will continue to be on the lookout for the deadly snake, police said.

"We're all working together to get ahold of it and find it," Googe said.