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King cobra at Denver Zoo gets chemotherapy for skin cancer

DENVER -- Zookeeper Tim Trout knows his reptiles. He's been working at the Denver Zoo's tropical discovery attraction for almost 18 years.

"This job gives me the opportunity to work with ones that you really can't work with outside of a zoo very easily or safely," Trout said.

One reptile that Trout works closely with at the zoo is a king cobra.

"He is 18 years old. He came here just a couple months after I did. As a young snake, he was maybe only 3 feet long and as big around as a pencil," Trout said.

Trout said he has known this king cobra for 120 "snake years."

"We've both watched each other grow up and get old," Trout said.

So when Trout noticed some unusual spotting on his charge, he called the zoo's veterinarian clinic. After testing, the diagnosis was lymphosarcoma -- a form of skin cancer.

It was a very unusual diagnosis. Treading new waters, the zoo decided to treat the snake with chemotherapy pills normally used in humans.

But the question was, how do you get a dangerous venomous snake to take his meds?

"The chemotherapy drug is just a small capsule and it will be placed inside (a) dead rodent and then the rodent will be fed to the cobra," zoo veterinarian Dr. Betsy Stringer said.

After a few treatments, the reptile is already showing encouraging signs of recovery, all thanks to Stringer's idea.