A 25-year-old Fair Lawn man is in critical condition at Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx after being bitten by a snake in his apartment.
Eric Bortz, who was employed at the Park Ridge Animal Hospital, purchased three snakes — a copperhead, a timber rattlesnake and an albino monocle cobra — from a dealer in Pennsylvania over the weekend. The cobra can be purchased for $500.
It was the cobra that bit Bortz on Monday, causing the man to go into respiratory distress and suffer seizures before his wife called 911.
Fair Lawn police and medical personnel responded and transported him to St. Joseph's Medical Center in Paterson, which transferred him to Jacobi, the only snakebite treatment center in the region. Jacobi is in close proximity to the Bronx Zoo and has had experience with bites and other injuries caused by animals.The Department of Environmental Protection was looking into how the snakes were transported to New Jersey and issues involving their possession, which is illegal in the state.
Bortz apparently was told by the dealer where he purchased the snakes that the cobra had undergone a procedure which removed the glands in the head that contained venom, rendering it harmless. That information proved wrong.
Fair Lawn Sgt. Rich Schultz told reporters that the dealer repeated those claims when Bortz called him shortly after being bitten at 6:30 p.m. Monday.
Bortz worked in zoos and helped care for small animals before joining the staff at the Park Ridge Animal Hospital last year. His biography on the animal hospital website states that he also owns other exotic pets, including a tarantula, several Emperor scorpions, a California king snake and a Colombian red-tailed boa constrictor. He also has a rabbit.
Health officials in Fair Lawn said there are regulations for owning exotic and non-traditional pets. It is unclear whether Bortz obtained proper licenses for his pets.
The snakes were removed from the Fair Lawn home Monday evening, according to the borough's animal control officer Rich DuBarton.