A former reptile handler at the Catoctin Zoo and Wildlife Preserve near Thurmont was charged this month after Maryland Natural Resources Police seized several venomous snakes, including two cobras, from his apartment.
Brandon Joseph Boyles, 28, had six Western diamondback rattlesnakes, a 7-foot-long forest cobra, a Cape coral cobra and two boomslangs in his apartment in the 25600 block of Military Road in Cascade when Natural Resources Police served a search warrant on the apartment Feb. 22, according to charging documents. Boyles was also keeping two dead cobras in his freezer and many of the living reptiles appeared to be poorly cared for.
Boyles told the officers that one of the dead cobras died from a respiratory infection, but he was not licensed to own or care for any of the snakes, most of which are not allowed to be privately owned in Maryland.
Water containers found in several of the snakes’ containers were empty, and other containers appeared to be dirty and poorly maintained, the documents state.
The officers, led by reptile specialist Cpl. Mike Lathroum, determined that several of the snakes were likely capable of escaping from the plastic tubs Boyles was using to house them.
The charging documents note one of the boomslangs was found in the apartment’s bedroom.
“That snake was almost overlooked during our search because the tub [that it was in] was serving as a makeshift coffee table or bedside table and the top of it was completely covered with empty pizza boxes, soda cans [and] plates with leftover food on them,” the documents read.
All of the snakes found in Boyles’ apartment were venomous and capable of delivering a fatal bite, the documents state.
Boyles was a herpetologist — an amphibian and reptile specialist — and worked as a reptile handler at the Catoctin Zoo until he resigned in September 2017, said Callan Hahn, the zoo manager and safari director.
The zoo houses one of the largest collections of snakes in the country, about 500, and Boyles brought several of his own animals to live at the zoo when he moved to Maryland to begin working at the zoo, Hahn said.
“He moved here from out of state and they are not legal to own as personal animals here in Maryland, so he was boarding them here,” Hahn said.
When Boyles left in September, he took two boomslangs, three cobras, three alligators and a crocodile with him, according to charging documents. The crocodilians were taken to the Maryland Reptile Conservation Center in Dickerson, but police learned later that Boyles took the snakes with him to Cascade.
While the zoo was aware that Maryland law prohibits the ownership of most of the animals, zoo staff believed that Boyles intended to return to the state he left where the laws were different, Hahn said.
“We were under the understanding that, when he left us, he was leaving to go back home out of state,” Hahn said, explaining that the zoo has cooperated fully with Maryland Natural Resources Police in its investigation.
The investigation began in November when Lathroum, who specializes in handling reptile trafficking cases, learned that Boyles had surrendered a rattlesnake to the Dickerson conservation center, the charging documents state.
From there, police attributed several YouTube videos showing Boyles, known as “VenomMan20,” in possession of various venomous snakes, including an Indo-Chinese spitting cobra and a Gaboon viper, the documents state.
“We had been watching him for a bit and put the case together,” said Candy Thomson, a Natural Resources Police spokeswoman. “When he had enough to go for a search warrant, that’s when we stepped in.”
Boyles was charged with 13 counts of illegal possession of a dangerous animal, nine counts of animal cruelty and one count of reckless endangerment, according to online court records. Boyles was charged via a criminal summons Friday, court records indicate.
The snakes were all seized Feb. 22, when the search warrant was served. All of the animals found in the apartment were back at the Catoctin Zoo, where they were being held as evidence, Thomson said.