Upper Macungie man’s death from 18-foot snake illustrates dangers of exotic pets

Written by on July 25, 2022

Upper Macungie man’s death from 18-foot snake illustrates dangers of exotic pets

By Jay Bradley
July 25, 2022

Elliot Senseman, 27, cared for many snakes in his Upper Macungie Township home.

Last week, one of them that measured about 18-feet-long wrapped itself around his neck. He was only freed after police shot and killed what they say was a boa constrictor-type snake. 

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Senseman died Sunday at Lehigh Valley Hospital – Cedar Crest, four days after suffering a brain injury due to a lack of oxygen, according to the Lehigh County Coroner’s Office. Coroner Daniel Buglio determined Senseman died of an anoxic brain injury due to asphyxiation by constriction. On Monday, he ruled the manner of death an accident.

Cher Vatalaro, director of conservation education at the Lehigh Valley Zoo, said the tragedy shines a light on the dangers of owning exotic pets — even when someone has experience with them.

“From my understanding he rescued it from an abusive situation so it was most likely someone else’s pet that they couldn’t care for,” Vatalaro said. “He took it in and was trying to rescue it and take care of it and do what’s best for the snake, and unfortunately the risks that come with that had this outcome.” 

Vatalaro said the zoo often gets calls of people wanting to give up their pet snake after it has grown or they can no longer care for it, but most zoos do not have the space or resources to take them in.

“We actually get probably at least one phone call a week at the zoo of someone wanting to surrender their pet snake,” Vatalaro said.

Upper Macungie Township police are continuing to investigate.

“I was really hopeful that this young man would be able to tell us his story, and tell us about how this happened but unfortunately that’s just you know, that’s not going to happen,” said Lt. Peter Nickischer. “It’s very sad.”

Nickischer said first responders did the best they could to save the victim, and would not have taken the snake’s life if they did not feel they had to. 

“It was a very dire situation, it was a very dire situation, or else an officer would have never taken that step, but he did what he needed to do,” Nickischer said. “We have been in contact with the family and passed on our condolences. It’s just a very tragic situation, it really is.”

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