A Historical Look At Why You Shouldn't Drunkenly Handle Snakes

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According to his coworkers, Edward Horatio Girling did not have much experience handling snakes when he took a job as a zookeeper at the London Zoological Gardens in 1852—which might help explain his apparent ignorance about the effects of mixing alcohol and venomous snakes. Namely, a fatal bite.

Let's back up. According to a paper published several years ago in the journal Anaesthesia and Intensive Care (and quoted from here), Girling spent the night of October 19, 1852 celebrating a boozy goodbye to a friend leaving for Australia:

Together with Edward Stewart, a temporary employee of the zoo, they stayed up all night, having three pints of beer at the friend’s house before moving to a pub in Shoe Lane where they drank quarters of gin until eight in the morning. From there it was straight to work where Edward Stewart, presumably still inebriated from the night before, was occupied in the relative safety of the hummingbird enclosure.

Unfortunately, Girling didn't work with hummingbirds—he worked with serpents. Stewart found his friend gallivanting about the reptile house with the not-super-deadly Morocco Snake in his hands.

Despite the protests of his friend, he draped this snake around the unfortunate Stewart, crying “I am inspired!” His friend bent down, protesting that the snake would bite him at any moment. Girling relented and put the snake back where it belonged.

But the dangerous revelry didn't end there. Stewart had returned to the hummingbirds when he heard Girling cry "Now for the cobra!" Back at the reptile house, Stewart watched helplessly as Girling put the cobra into his waistcoat. From there, the snake coiled around the inebriated man's body and when Girling tried to grab a hold of him, the snake bit him five times on the nose.

Girling was rushed to the nearby University College Hospital, but by the time he got there, his head had swollen and his face had turned black. Thirty-five minutes after arriving, the zookeeper was declared dead. And although the doctors were able to study the infected blood for the sake of medical improvement, let this stand as an important warning: Never handle cobras while intoxicated.

[h/t History Weird]