Reptile expert remembers being bitten by king cobra as he collects MBE

Reptile expert Mark O’Shea has revealed a king cobra which bit him earlier this year was his favourite snake named Sleeping Beauty.

Professor O’Shea, 65, spoke about surviving after the venom seeped through his sock when the 10-foot reptile bit his shoe, and falling in love with snakes after trying to catch a wild adder at the age of seven.

The leading herpetologist spoke with the PA news agency at Windsor Castle where he was awarded an MBE by the Princess Royal for snakebite research.

Prof O’Shea, who was wearing a tie patterned with lizards, crocodiles and snakes, said: “I met my first snake at a zoo and it was a boa constrictor, and it was twice as long as I was tall at age six.

“Then I saw an adder in the wild when I was seven years old, in this country.

“That was a wild snake, and I tried to catch it and fortunately failed.

“After that I had a pet grass snake called Escapist, because she did all the time.

“I just became fascinated by snakes and other people didn’t like them which I think made me like them a bit more.

“Every time I learned something about them it brought up more questions.

“I’ve been around snakes now for six decades and I haven’t stopped learning.

“I’m still finding new species’ and discovering new behaviour that I haven’t seen before.

“I hope to carry on, and now being a professor at the University of Wolverhampton I’m in a position to try and enthuse the next generation of herpetologists.

“So it’s gone full circle for me.”

Professor Mark O’Shea, professor of herpetology at the University of Wolverhampton, is made an MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) by the Princess Royal (Aaron Chown/PA)
Professor Mark O’Shea, professor of herpetology at the University of Wolverhampton, is made an MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) by the Princess Royal (Aaron Chown/PA)

Prof O’Shea said he has suffered several serious snake bites over the years.

“I probably had my first had my venomous snake bite in 1975 and it was three weeks after a little boy died from an adder bite in Scotland.

“He was the last fatality in this country,” he said.

“The hospital where I went to was pandemonium because they thought I was going to die, and I was the only one who knew I wasn’t going to.”

Prof O’Shea also needed hospital treatment after his favourite snake bit his shoe, leaving scratches on his toes which could have been fatal and he later nursed the reptile back to health after it underwent an operation.

He said: “She was a lovely snake, we called her Sleeping Beauty because she had an operation once and the ketamine kept her down for four days and nights, 100 hours.

“I had to keep her in a box and I had to set my alarm for five minutes every hour, I would tweak her tail to wake her up.

“It took me 100 hours to wake her up, and she lived for a long time after that.

“King cobras are tremendous, they’re my favourite snakes, there’s something going on behind those eyes, there’s something special about them.

“They seem to be almost engaging you.”

Prof O’Shea said he also spoke with Anne about snake bites and her experience meeting victims in Zambia.

He said: “The World Health Organisation (WHO) is aiming to lower snake bite mortality by 50% by 2030 which would be tremendous because it claims up to 138,000 lives a year and disables 400,000 people a year, pushes families into penury and leaves survivors with PTSD.

“It has been neglected for a long time so to be able to publicise it, and my MBE helps to publicise it, is more than I could have dreamed of.”