The one time we rescued a woman from a toothbrush: an ACRES story

Black spitting cobra, at left, and electric toothbrush, at right.
Black spitting cobra, at left, and electric toothbrush, at right.

Ed. note: This absurd story was sent our way by a member of animal advocacy group ACRES. 

Animal welfare group ACRES was called out last week to help a resident who suspected that there was a wild animal in her house, only to discover a faulty bathroom appliance was the cause of considerable drama.

On the morning of July 28, an ACRES rescue team raced to a landed property on Westwood Drive in Jurong West in response to an SOS from a concerned resident who believed an animal — possibly a snake — was in her bedroom. 

The resident, Xi Yan, told the ACRES rescue hotline that she could hear a hissing noise coming from a cupboard near her bed. The team was sent a recording of the noise and identified it to be the distinctive warning hiss of a Black spitting cobra.

Black spitting cobras are not aggressive animals and tend to avoid confrontation, but when threatened they will expand their hoods and emit a loud hiss.

The hiss sounds just like the noise that startled our caller. This video captures the sound:

This is the sound a cobra makes when threatened:

The rescue team carefully searched the bedroom on the third floor of the house, wearing protective eyewear and using snake grabbers to look under bags, clothes, and other household items.

ACRES rescue officer Muhamad Safari Bin Masnor, or Ari, wondered how the cobra could have ventured up so many floors. Cobras are terrestrial animals, so tend to be found at ground level.

For almost an hour, the rescue team searched the house for the cobra. As objects were moved about to locate the snake, the source of the hiss shifted.

“At one point we thought there might be two or three cobras in the house, because of the changing source of the sound,” recalled Julia Waters, an ACRES rescue volunteer who was on the scene.

The search ended when Ari, wearing venom defender gloves, picked up an Oral B electric toothbrush and turned it on and off again.

The hissing stopped.

“An image of a spitting cobra was fixed in my head. I was convinced that we would find one, even though it became clear that the sound was coming from a pink toothbrush,” said Ari.

Though it was highly unlikely that a cobra would climb three flights of stairs, Waters said “anything is possible” on animal rescue duty.

Ari said that he had once rescued a cobra on the top floor of an aviation warehouse. ACRES co-CEO Kalai Vanan once rescued a cobra from a 13th-floor HDB flat.

What should you do if you encounter a cobra?

Cobras are versatile animals found all over Singapore, even in urban areas. They love good places to hide, so to keep them away, cut your grass short and keep your place clutter-free.

Should you encounter a spitting cobra, keep your distance. After using their first lines of defence, hiding and hissing, spitting cobras will — as their name suggests — spit if threatened. Always stay at least three meters away.

Take a photo of the snake and send it to the ACRES rescue hotline on 97837782 so that it can be identified.

For toothbrush-related enquiries, call Braun customer services.

“The problem started because water got into my electrical toothbrush and affected the mechanism. I should really buy a new one, I don’t want to go through this again,” Xi Yan told Coconuts.

“The ACRES staff were very helpful and responsible. It was a hot day, and they spent almost an hour trying to resolve the issue,” she said.

Other stories:

Vaccine-crashing Singapore cat turns out to be neighborhood star
Bee colony in your area? Don’t kill, call Singapore’s bee man

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