PYTHON AS PETS
Burmese pythons are popular with pet snake owners. They cost only $50 and reach lengths of 12 feet. Burmese pythons are quite docile in captivity. The Japanese owner of 15 snakes. Including a python, told the Yomiuri Shimbun, “Snakes are easy to keep in apartments because they’re far quieter than cats or dogs.” He said his pet snakes were like family and he spent hours with them wrapped around his wrists like bracelets. He inturnes help the snakes when they have a hard time shedding their skin.
Pythons are popular among exotic dancers and have been bred many times in captivity. The rock musicians Alice Copper has a 2.4-meter-long albino python. Once, after it swallowed a heating pad, the snake had to be rushed to an emergency room for emergency surgery just minutes before a show was to begin. If the surgery had been delayed the snake’s intestines might have ruptured.
Albino pythons are sold at pets stores in Tokyo. One pet store owner said most of his snake customers were men in their 20s are early 30s. Snakes in Japan also widely purchased through Internet auctions. In the United States there are breeders who specialize in snakes with rare colors and patterns and sell for them for high prices. In some village in Asia pythons are sold in local markets along with bullock whips. "Look at this godly creature,” one vendor said, "If you feed him he will look after your ancestors."
Problems with Pet Pythons
Cheryl Conway, spokeswoman for the Aurora Animal Care Division, said Burmese pythons do not make good long-term pets because they can grow up to 20 feet long and weigh 200 pounds, requiring at least one person for every 4 feet of snake to handle and support the reptile. But Barbara Huggins, a licensed reptile rescuer, said the issue isn't whether people should be allowed to own them. "The people who own them have to know what they are doing," she said. "There are at least hundreds of people who own these animals and never have had any trouble." [Source: Sheba R. Wheeler, Denver Post, February 11, 2002]
Burmese python owner Jay Barr, 20, of Longmont said a python can be a rewarding, social pet if cared for properly. Barr, who volunteers at Colorado Reptile Rescue, has had his female python for two years since it was an 18-inch hatchling. The snake is more than 10 feet long and weighs about 35 pounds. Burmese pythons are generally docile. They crave regular social interaction and can become alienated, edgy and aggressive when handled if they are kept primarily for display, Barr said.
Mark Berger, 23, of Colorado Springs, works with Colorado Reptile Rescue in that city. He said that in 2001, the city's organization took in 250 snakes, iguanas and other reptiles because people could no longer care for them. "You can socialize a snake. You can't tame a snake. At any time, they can turn on you. Virtually every accident is because of an error on the owner's part," Berger said.
In January 28, 1998, Associated Press reported from Chillicothe, Ohio: “The owner of a 12-foot python wound up in court after the snake apparently turned on a faucet and caused the bathtub to overflow. Police said they charged Keith Washington, 34, with harboring a dangerous animal because they had gotten previous complaints about Gidget, his 95-pound pet. He could get up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine. On Sunday, Washington left the snake soaking in the tub at his upstairs apartment while he watched the Super Bowl at a neighbor's home. He said Gidget likes to drink and moisten her skin in the tub and often stays there for hours before slithering out. He said she sometimes brushes against the faucet and turns the water on. When the tub overflowed Sunday, the water dripped through the floor, and a downstairs neighbor called police. Washington said Gidget is gentle and often crawls into his lap. "A lot of people have dogs or cats that get out of hand, but no one ever hears of snakes biting or hurting anyone,'' he said. [Source: Associated Press, January 28, 1998]
Pythons Invade the Florida Everglades
In Florida so many pet Burmese pythons have escaped or been set free by their owners that they are now regarded as the largest snake in the United States. They have become quite numerous in the Everglades, where they now breed and consume animals such as otters, squirrels, endangered woodstorks and sparrows. they find there. It its not uncommon for motorist to come across three-meter-long specimens while driving roads through the Everglades. A of 2012 No one in Everglades National Park had been attacked by a python but a few pet cats and dogs had been eaten outside the park.
Pythons were first spotted in the Evergladed in the 1970s. They started to appear in large numbers in the late 1990s and early 2000s. October 2005, Associated Press reported: The “python population that has swelled over the past 20 years...The Asian snakes have thrived in the wet, hot climate. The encroachment of Burmese pythons into the Everglades could threaten an $8 billion restoration project and endanger smaller species, said Frank Mazzotti, a professor of wildlife ecology and conservation for the University of Florida.
By some estimates there may be as many as 150,000 pythons crawling through the Everglades. The USGS has estimated there anywhere between 5,000 and 100,000 of them in the Everglades. Joe Wasilewski, a wildlife biologist and crocodile tracker, said its unknown how many pythons there are. We need to set traps and do a proper survey," of the snakes, he said. At least 150 were captured in 2004 and 2005.
The Washington Post reported: Pythons prefer warmth, but many in the Everglades have managed to survive hard freezes, leading some biologists to worry about their ability to adapt and travel north. The snake has already been swimming and slithering south toward the Florida Keys.
Six-Meter Burmese Python Captured in Florida
In May 2013, Megan Gannon of LiveScience, wrote: “A Miami man wrangled and killed the longest-ever Burmese python to be captured in Florida, wildlife officials announced Monday, May 20. The 128-lb snake measured 18 feet, 8 inches long. Jason Leon spotted the python poking out of the roadside brush late on May 11 as he was driving in a rural part of southeast Miami-Dade County, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). [Source: Megan Gannon, LiveScience, May 21, 2013]
Leon, who had previous experience with Burmese pythons as a pet owner, apparently got out of his car, grabbed the snake behind its head and dragged it out of the brush. People who were with Leon came to help when the snake started wrapping around his leg. The man eventually used a knife to kill the snake and reported the incident to authorities, the FWC said. Adult Burmese pythons caught in Florida are on average between 6 feet and 9 feet in length. The previous record-setter, found in August 2012, was 17 feet, 7 inches long. That snake still holds the record for carrying the most eggs a whopping 87 of any a Burmese python captured in Florida. The recently identified beast, now dead, was a female but was not carrying any eggs, according to the University of Florida scientists who examined the snake.
Reasons Behind Florida Python Invasion
No one knows for certain how the invasive pythons entered the Everglades. Many think they are former pets and descendants of former pets. It was first thought the Burmese pythons were first let loose by exotic pet owners in the 1990s. Scientists have also speculated a large number of the snakes escaped in 1992 from pet shops battered by Hurricane Andrew. Burmese pythons are popular and legal pets in the United States. Some escape. Some are released by owners who freak out when their baby snakes quickly mature into giant, dangerous adults. A reproducing snake can have as many as 100 hatchlings, which explains why the snake population has soared.
The problem arises when people buy pets they are not prepared to care for. "People will buy these tiny little snakes and if you do everything right, they're six-feet tall in one year. They lose their appeal, or the owner becomes afraid of it. There's no zoo or attraction that will take it," so they release the snakes into the Everglades.
Tim Padgett wrote in Time: In large part, Floridians have created their own mess. The Sunshine State loves exotic pets, and sales of pythons, most imported from Southeast Asia, reached $10 million in the state in 2008. But too many buyers, after discovering what a large and expensive chore caring for these snakes can be, simply get rid of them. And because there aren't a lot of adopt-a-python agencies, the reptiles are often dumped in the wild. As a result, Florida in 2008 instituted new ownership requirements, such as $100 annual permits, proof of snake-handling skills and implantation of microchips in pythons' hides to keep tabs on the snakes. [Source: Tim Padgett, Time August 10, 2009]
Mazzotti told the Washington Post that the belief that Hurricane Andrew blew them there from exotic pet shops and houses in 1992, or that numerous pet owners released them when they grew too large, is likely a myth. “All it takes is three snakes,” he said, mating and laying an average of 50 eggs, and up to 100 eggs, per year.
Pythons Wiping out Native Everglades Animals
In January 2012, Reuters reported: “Researchers writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science have found that surging population of Burmese pythons in the Florida Everglades appears to be eating its way through many animals native to the sensitive wetlands. The study not "severe declines" in the population of small and mid-sized native mammals in the 1.5 million-acre national park and linked it to the growing presence of Burmese pythons. [Source: Reuters, January 30, 2012]
The pythons have been what scientists call "an established invasive species" in the Everglades, apex predators that occasionally prey on the American alligator and the Florida panther. The python's impact has been dramatic on the population of smaller mammals, including raccoons, opossums, marsh and cottontail rabbits, foxes and bobcats, which have dropped precipitously in recent years, researchers said.
The researchers collected their information by conducting nearly a decade of night-time road surveys inside the park and in similar habitats outside it, where they counted both live animals sightings as well as road kill. They also looked at records of road-killed mammals from previous surveys done by National Park Service rangers in the 1990s, before the pythons were common in the Everglades. In all, the researchers drove nearly 40,000 miles between 2003 and 2011 and conducted more than 300 nights of observations.
In the southern end of the Everglades, where the pythons have been established the longest, researchers said raccoon sightings have dropped 99.3 percent, while sightings of opossum have dropped 98.9 percent and bobcat sightings have fallen 87.5 percent.Researchers did not detect a single rabbit -- dead or alive -- once inside the park during the nine-year study. Nuisance calls involving raccoons used to light up the park service's switchboard, researchers said. Since 2005, not a single park visitor has called to report a nuisance raccoon, according to the study. A number of water birds -- grebes, herons and the federally endangered wood stork -- also appear to be falling to python predation, the researchers said.
Because the animals that have disappeared over the past decade come from such different taxonomic and trophic groups, the researchers said it was unlikely a disease outbreak accounted for the decline. "The magnitudes of these declines," the researchers wrote, "underscores the apparent incredible density of pythons in the (Everglades) and justifies intensive investigation into how the addition of a novel apex predators affects overall ecosystem processes."
Darryl Fears wrote in the Washington Post, “Nearly every news report blamed pythons, but the study—“Severe Mammal Declines Coincide with Proliferation of Invasive Burmese Pythons in Everglades National Park” — did not conclude that. It said more research was needed.”You have to ask the question,” Mazzotti said. “Has a crime occurred? Yes, mammals have declined. Do pythons have a motive? You bet, they have to eat. Do they have the means? They’re like vacuum cleaners on mammals. But then you have to do a much better job of looking at cause and effect.” Mazzotti is also examining the impact of humans, who have drained water for development. “What’s happened in the Everglades is that the depth of water has been completely screwed up by humans, and we have to ask the question if hydrology is related to the disappearance of mammals.” [Source: Darryl Fears, Washington Post, April 28 2012]
Python Tries to Eat Alligator, Explodes
Research indicates that pythons eat alligator about twice as often as the other way around. In October 2005, AP reported: Alligators have clashed with nonnative pythons before in Everglades National Park. But when a 6-foot gator tangled with a 13-foot python recently, the result wasn't pretty. The snake apparently tried to swallow the gator whole — and then exploded. Scientists stumbled upon the gory remains last week. [Source: Associated Press, October 05, 2005]
The species have battled with increasing frequency — scientists have documented four encounters in the last three years. "Encounters like that are almost never seen in the wild. ... And we here are, it's happened for the fourth time," Mazzotti said. In the other cases, the alligator won or the battle was an apparent draw. "They were probably evenly matched in size," Mazzotti said of the latest battle. "If the python got a good grip on the alligator before the alligator got a good grip on him, he could win."
While the gator may have been injured before the battle began — wounds were found on it that apparently were not caused by python bites — Mazzotti believes it was alive when the battle began. And it may have clawed at the python's stomach as the snake tried to digest it, leading to the blow up. The python was found with the gator's hindquarters protruding from its midsection. Its stomach still surrounded the alligator's head, shoulders, and forelimbs. The remains were discovered and photographed Sept. 26 by helicopter pilot and wildlife researcher Michael Barron.
The incident has alerted biologists to new potential dangers from Burmese pythons in the Everglades. "Clearly, if they can kill an alligator they can kill other species," Mazzotti said. "There had been some hope that alligators can control Burmese pythons. ... This indicates to me it's going to be an even draw. Sometimes alligators are going to win and sometimes the python will win. "It means nothing in the Everglades is safe from pythons, a top down predator," Mazzotti said.
Efforts to Battle the Pythons in the Everglades
Experts at the U.S. Geological Survey, which has helped do studies in the Everglades, say the odds of eradicating the pythons now that they have established themselves in the park are "very low." But still there are those who are trying to get rid of them. The National Park Service says that more than 1,800 pythons have been removed from the park and surrounding areas between 2002 and 2012.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation (FWC) commissioner Ron Bergeron, who leads team trying to eradicate pythons from the Everglades, told Time: "They like to sneak onto islands like this one...They know birds and animals take refuge on them." He pulls up to the tree-covered hummock, and almost as soon as herpetologists Shawn Heflick and Greg Graziani hop off the airboat armed with snake hooks, they find a 10-foot Burmese python slithering through the mud. Graziani swoops down and grabs the angry serpent's tail while Heflick goes for the other end. After a brief struggle, during which Heflick gets his hand bloodied by a sharp snake tooth, they pull the python's head, with its camouflage-like design, into their clutches. "It was trying to cool off deep down there in the slime in this heat," says Heflick, lifting the python like a trophy as it coils around his forearm and flashes its forked tongue. "Makes it harder to find them this time of year." When they get back to dry land, the men will kill it. So begins Day One for Florida's first officially designated python posse. [Source: Tim Padgett, Time August 10, 2009]
The population of the voracious nonnative snakes has exploded so frighteningly in the past decade-that the state has launched a hunting offensive to eradicate them before they wipe out the endangered species native to the region, like wood storks and white-tailed deer. Or before they become a human threat.” After 2-year-old girl was strangled to death by a pet python in her house outside Orlando in July 2009 Florida officials like Bergeron and Senator Bill Nelson have ramped up the python-purge campaign. On July 17, FWC chairman Rodney Barreto issued the first snake-hunting permits for state lands, and U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar did likewise for Big Cypress National Preserve. (Hunting is banned in Everglades National Park, but Salazar is considering allowing it in this case.) Researchers are even developing a python drone, a small remote-controlled airplane that can detect the constrictors. For now, only reptile experts like Graziani and Heflick have permission to hunt the serpents. (Using firearms against the reptiles is still prohibited.)
After the posse euthanizes the morning's catch by swiftly severing its brain stem, the men examine its entrails. "She was eating well out there," says Graziani, noting the large fatty deposits and the animal fur in its stool. But with everyone from politicians to glades crackers pledging to stop the python invasion, the snakes are now the prey.
Governments have tried imposing stiffer penalties on people who release snakes and held “snake amnesty days” allowing people to turn in their snakes no questions asked. National park ranger Skip Snow has experimented with using a beagle nicknamed Python Pete to track snakes (the dog is kept on a leash so it doesn’t become a python snack. Some game officials and citizens have suggested sending bounty hunters with guns and traps, bow machetes into the park. The Washington Post reported: “Bounty hunters are great at capturing snakes — when they find them, which is rare. Hunters are also known to execute small native snakes, mistaking them for python hatchlings.
Studying Pythons in the Everglades
Reporting from Everglades National Park, Darryl Fears wrote in the Washington Post, “Kristen Hart’s search for a cold-blooded killer came to an end at a perfect hideout — thick scrub brush, dense trees and shade. She crouched with three scouts and whispered. “Do you see her?” asked Hart, a research ecologist for the U.S. Geological Survey. “Yeah, she’s in there,” answered Thomas Selby, a wildlife biologist. “I think she knows we’re here,” said Brian Smith, another biologist. [Source: Darryl Fears, Washington Post, April 28 2012]
Within seconds, the 16 ½ -foot Burmese python uncoiled and made a run for it. Smith and Selby charged into the trees. “I’ve got the head!” Smith shouted. “Grab the tail!” They stumbled out with the writhing snake in a chokehold, huge mouth agape, ready to bite. It was actually the second time biologists got their hands on Python 51 — the 51st caught. Two months ago, they surgically fitted her with a radio transmitter, motion detector and global positioning system to study her diet and movements.
Now, the snake’s days of squeezing the life out of prey and giving birth to about four dozen babies every year are over. The scientists want to retrieve their expensive equipment and the data it contains. She was euthanized last week, along with an even bigger snake, the largest ever captured in Florida, at 17 ½ feet — more than twice as long as former basketball player Shaquille O’Neal is tall.
Using data collected from recaptured pythons, Hart is trying positively determine if pythins are responsible for the decline in small animals in the Everglades. “I used to see marsh rabbits down in Flamingo [a section of the park], and I don’t see them anymore,” she said. “We don’t see such dramatic declines in places that don’t have pythons, like Big Cypress,” the national preserve slightly north of the Everglades.
Pythons 51 is one of the keys to that research. She was first captured in February, when park workers spraying vegetation spotted her and called for help. She became the fifth snake fitted with smarter motion detector and global positioning technology since it was first deployed two years ago. After her recapture, Hart was eager to see the data embedded in the tracking device, called an accelerometer. Its technology is similar to that in Wii video game controllers, recording data five times a second — “every pitch, yaw and roll,” Hart said. “We can tell when they’re belly up,” she said. “We can tell if it squeezed a small item,” meaning a little creature, “because it would not take long, or that much flipping by the snake,” to squeeze its breath out and stop its heart. “But a large item would take lots of flipping.”
Accelerometers cost $2,000 each, a pricey sum for the cash-strapped USGS. When an accelerometer was lost last year in April, Hart and her team went out of their way to get it back. “We were in water up to my waist,” said Selby, who is more than 6 feet tall. Smith, his colleague, “was holding the radio. I stepped on something hard and stood up on it. Then I stepped off and this gator splashed away.” As it swam away, the signal got weaker and weaker. “He had the accelerometer in him.”
Days later, they struck out to find the alligator. “We got the gator that got the python that had the accelerometer,” Hart said. The 10-foot alligator is at Zoo Miami, where the staff is waiting for him to poop out the device. “We’re hoping to get him X-rayed this week,” Hart said. “We might have to go get the equipment through one end or the other. He will be awake. You can get the mouth open. You can reach way in there. I’m sure the gator won’t like it.”
A 10- or 20-foot python is large enough to pose a risk to an unwary human, especially a small child. Reticulated pythons and Burmese pythons kills several people every year. Many of them are pet owners. There have been newspaper reports in some countries, describing people being cut from the insides of snakes.
The Blair brothers were told that the town of Bira in Sulawesi was one of the most heavily python-infested areas of Indonesia. Some of the snake there were nine meters long and residents wore black coral snake bracelets to ward off the predators. Pythons sometimes entered houses when game was scarce. Residents told stories of being chased or ambushed by pythons. [Source: "Ring of Fire" by Lawrence and Lorne Blair, Bantam Books, New York]
A man named Laba told the Blair brothers a story about huge python that dropped on top of him from a tree. "Flattening him to the ground and knocking the wind out of him," Blair wrote, "it had begun the killing process by throwing a few coils around the tree to anchor itself, and a few more around Laba, pinning his arms to his side. It doesn't squeeze very hard, Laba explained, but tightens its grip each time you exhale, making it increasingly harder to draw the next breath. It made no attempt to bite, but held its face close to Laba's, intently watching him while its forked tongue flickered around his nose." [Source: "Ring of Fire" by Lawrence and Lorne Blair, Bantam Books, New York]
"'They look at you very closely,' he told us. It was at this point that Laba had effected the only feasible escape...In the coils adjacent to his wrists he located the python's cloaca and managed to give it one hell of a goosing. The astonished reptile loosened its grip just long enough for Laba to break free and stagger off down the track — with the serpent in hot pursuit...loudly vocalizing...sibilant barks."
Adults Attacked by Pythons
In January 2011, The Telegraph reported: “A South African bit his way to freedom after he was attacked by a python that tried to crush him to death near Pretoria. Lucas Sibanda, 57, said that, when he saw the snake on his way to work, "I froze for almost 10 seconds, enough to let it tangle itself around me. "I decided the only way to save myself from this monster was to bite it just below the head," he told the Star newspaper. He sank his teeth into the python and kicked and punched until it released its grip. Then he killed it with a stick. [Source: The Telegraph, January 11, 2001]
In May 2001, The Straits Times reported: “A 72-year-old grandmother had a lucky escape from a python in her bathroom. Ms Ngah Hitam had gone to the bathroom at her home in Kampung Seberang Tuan Chik, Malaysia when a python suddenly placed its jaws tightly around one of her feet and tried to drag her down a hole it had entered through the house. Fortunately, the hole was not big enough for the oversized grandmother. The python finally gave up and loosened its grip. Ms Ngah suffered a huge bite on her foot and is now recovering at the Terengganu Hospital. Granddaughter Wan Aishah Ibrahim, 31, said it was the second time in six months that a python had entered their house. In December, a snake tried to coil around a cat and crush it. [Source: The Straits Times, May 28, 2001]
Python Attacks on Children
In December 1999 The Telegraph reported: A seven-year-old boy on a camping holiday in Queensland survived an attack by a 10 foot python which slithered into his tent as he slept, coiled itself tightly around his neck and seized his face in its jaws. Gerard O'Hare was saved by his father, Neil, who wrestled with the snake and wrenched it away, throwing it out of their tent. The boy suffered about 20 bite wounds to his face, shoulder and hands but was released from hospital after treatment. He and his father were on holiday on Moreton Island, east of Brisbane, when the snake attacked. Queensland's rescue helicopter flew a medical team to the scene and took father and son to hospital in Brisbane. A rescue service spokesman said: "The snake came into the tent and grabbed the boy by the throat. It had wrapped itself around his throat and was trying to eat him. It had its jaws wide open, trying to get a hold on the boy. He was being choked and then the snake starting biting him. The boy was very traumatised, and although the snake was not venomous, he had numerous puncture wounds to his face and upper body." [Source: Barbie Dutter The Telegraph, December 14, 1999 ]
In March 2003, The Courier Mail in Queensland, Australia reported: Marlie Coleman did not think twice about taking on the scrub python when it wrapped its jaws around her kitten Sooty in their Cairns backyard earlier this year. The sharp-toothed python let go of the kitten, but attached itself to Marlie's lip, hanging on until her mother heard the screams and shook it off. Her mother, Shakira, remembers seeing Marlie standing on the barbecue with a snake attached to her face, bleeding and sobbing "Snake trying to eat Sooty". Scrub pythons grow to three metres in Cairns and are known to defend themselves by biting with their long, sharp teeth, said Michael O'Brien, wildlife curator at Wild World - The Tropical Zoo. They prey upon warm-blooded animals such as chickens, small dogs and cats. [Source: The Courier Mail , Queensland, Australia, March 27, 2003]
RSPCA [Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals] Queensland chief executive officer Mark Townend said Marlie's only concern on her way to hospital after the attack was for the kitten. "The RSPCA does not want to see children place themselves in danger," Mr Townend said. "However, this little girl, who was only five at the time, showed exceptional bravery. "Marlie performed a selfless and courageous act on behalf of her kitten friend and she has captured the spirit of animal welfare." Marlie still bears the scars of her ordeal, while Sooty recovered from minor injuries and the non-venomous python slipped away, never to be seen again. Marlie was presented with the award at her school today, becoming the first female, youngest person and first Queenslander to receive it.
Adults Killed by Pet Pythons
In December 1999 UPI Focus reported: “A Port Orange, Florida, man died, and police think his pet python killed him. Police suspect Robert Raulerson, 32, had opened the cage of the 12 ½ -foot-long reticulated python to give it some medication when it attacked him. Commander Mike Sheridan said, "It just appears to the detectives, at some point the python grabbed the deceased's forehead with his fangs and then proceeded to wrap itself around the body and suffocated him." An autopsy by the medical examiner confirmed that there were puncture wounds on Robertson's forehead, but investigators said it was unclear whether they were caused by snake fangs. The snake was one of five pythons living in Robertson's home. It was humanely destroyed shortly after the death was discovered. The other snakes have been taken to the Halifax Humane Society. Humane Society staffer Michelle Pari said, "We do not recommend owning a wild animal." [Source: UPI Focus, December 23, 1999]
In May 1999, Reuters reported: “A Thai snake charmer's luck ran out when a python he had captured from a neighbor's home coiled itself around his neck and strangled him. Hie Kerdchoochuay, 55, who was known for his snake catching and charming skills, rushed into a neighbor's house in the northern province of Uttaradit to catch the python which had intruded the home, police told Reuters. He put the snake in a sack and was walking home with it when villagers ran into him and asked to see the python. Hie then took the snake out and put it around his neck. Hie started screaming for help when the reptile wrapped itself tightly around his neck and did not let go until he fell down dead, police said. Villagers and policemen in the area then forcibly unwrapped the snake from his neck and took it into captivity. [Source: Reuters, May 4, 1999]
Pet Python Kills Owner in Colorado
In February 2002, the Denver Post reported: “A large pet python overpowered its owner and squeezed him to death in the basement of an Aurora home. Richard Barber, 43, of Aurora, died of asphyxiation when Monty, his 11-foot-long, 43-pound female snake, coiled herself around his head, neck and chest and squeezed him to death, according to an Arapahoe County Coroner's autopsy report. [Source: Jim Kirksey, Sheba R. Wheeler, Denver Post, February 11, 2002]
Authorities were called to 1357 S. Biscay St. at 2:27 p.m. on a report of a snake choking a man, authorities at the scene said. Sgt. Jack Daluz, one of the first officers on the scene, along with officer Doug Stark, said they found the man on the floor of the basement "with a Burmese python around his neck." He said the victim wasn't struggling at that point. "The part of the snake that wasn't wrapped around him was coiled and it was looking at us," he said. "It wasn't pretty."
Daluz and Stark used their police batons for leverage to pull the reptile away from the man's neck, but it took reinforcements from the Aurora Fire Department to peel the pet off the man. The snake was about 8 inches in diameter, Daluz said. Fire Lt. Dave Varnum said it took seven men to unwrap the python from around its owner, and firefighter Sigfried Kline wrestled it back into its cage. Varnum said it isn't clear why the reptile attacked its owner, who had raised it from a small snake to its present size. It didn't appear to be hungry and it wasn't shedding its skin - two times when snakes tend to be more aggressive, Varnum said.
Two women who also live in the house found the man with the snake around his neck but they were unable to unravel it, so they called 911, Varnum said. Jay Larson, who lives across the street, identified the victim as Rick Barber and said he has known him for about a dozen years. Larson said an ambulance technician on the scene told him the victim had no pulse when they arrived, but they had managed to restore it before taking him to the Medical Center of Aurora. He was pronounced dead of asphyxiation in the hospital's emergency room, hospital spokeswoman Bev Petry said. Larson said he has petted the python many times in the past, and he described it as docile. Aurora Animal Control took custody of the large python.
Barber been ordered by a judge three years before the attack to get rid of a similar snake that was too large. Officials aren't sure whether it's the same snake that killed the man. Records show that Barber was found guilty in October 1998 of violating a city code that makes it illegal to keep a snake more than 6 feet long. He was ordered to take the snake out of the Aurora city limits, said Cheryl Conway, spokeswoman for the Aurora Animal Care Division. An anonymous caller had told division officials a large snake had been seen in Barber's backyard. "He was given a month to relocate the reptile," Conway said. "Animal care went back out for a follow-up inspection and we found that he had removed the snake."
Barber apparently raised the python from a baby. Authorities said Barber had taken Monty out of her cage Sunday afternoon and wrapped her around his neck to show his roommates. Suddenly, Barber's face contorted and he fell to the ground, a movement that may have frightened the snake and caused her to constrict, authorities said. It took four firefighters and at least one police officer to pry the snake off Barber with their nightsticks. As three firefighters rushed Barber upstairs to revive him, a firefighter left holding the snake was suddenly knocked off his feet when the snake coiled around his arm and began dragging him across the floor, said Rory Chetelat, spokesman for the Aurora Fire Department. The firefighter eventually spotted a cage, and he steered the snake toward it until his colleagues came back and helped put the snake in its cage. About a month after the attack Monty was euthanized. One other person in Colorado has been squeezed to death by a pet python. Derek Romero, 15, of Commerce City, was killed in 1993 when his family's 1 ½ -foot pet Burmese python crushed his torso.
Pet Python Attacks on Children
In August 1999, Dave McKinney wrote in the Chicago Sun-Times, “A 7 ½ -foot pet African python was blamed for suffocating a 3-year-old boy in Centralia, Illinois. Jesse Lee Altom's body was found in the family's home with compression marks around his chest and bite marks on his neck and ears. Police investigators said his parents' pet, which they obtained three months ago, escaped from an aquarium and wrapped itself around the boy's chest while he lay sleeping with an aunt and uncle near the base of the aquarium. [Source: Dave McKinney, Chicago Sun-Times, August 31, 1999]
The relatives and his parents all were sleeping in the family's living room after a party Saturday night, police said. "We can't say exactly why the snake did that. . . . It was shedding, and they can get temperamental when they're in that state," said Capt. Richard Densmore, an investigator with the Centralia Police Department. An autopsy completed Monday revealed the 35-pound boy died of asphyxiation, and there were no signs to indicate the boy struggled with the snake, said Mark Moss, the Marion County deputy coroner.
"It could've been getting out of its crate and the boy moved, and the snake was spooked," Moss said. Authorities also speculated the one-year-old snake may have been seeking warmth. The species, which can reach 14 feet at maturity, prefers temperatures of at least 85 degrees. Its cage did not have a heat lamp, police said. A herpetologist, an expert on reptiles and amphibians, has taken the snake until police and prosecutors decide whether to press charges against the boy's parents, Densmore said.
In August 2001, Associated Press reported: An 8-year-old girl died after her family's pet Burmese python wrapped itself around her neck and suffocated her. The 10-foot-long snake was one of five owned by the family, police said. Amber Mountain's mother left home for a short time and returned to find that the snake had escaped from its cage. The girl was unconscious and had no pulse when paramedics arrived. It is legal to keep exotic snakes as pets in Irwin, southeast of Pittsburgh. [Source: Associated Press, August 27, 2001]
In July 2012, ABC News reported: A baby from Matoon, Illinois, narrowly escaped death after being attacked by a neighbor's two-foot-long python that slithered into his crib. William Winans, who celebrated his first birthday this week, was treated for bites and bruise marks and is doing well, his father, Devin Winans, told ABC News. “If the snake had wrapped around his neck, honestly, we probably would not be having his birthday today,” Winans said. [Source: Snejana Farberov, ABC News, July 8 2012]
“The two-foot ball python slithered out of its tank and into the next-door apartment At around 11pm Winans said he heard his son crying and went to check on him. When the concerned dad felt around the toddler’s crib, he said he felt something “slimy.” “I immediately turned the light on and saw the snake, a ball python wrapped around his foot, constricting it and trying to eat his foot,” Mr Winans recalled. The father used a blanket to yank the snake off his son’s tiny foot and turned the animal over to the Coles County Animal Shelter. Shelter manager Julie Deters said it is not clear why the snake attacked the baby, but said that in the hot summer months, animals turn more irritable. William was taken to Sarah Bush Lincoln Health Center to be treated for a bite, a bruise and scratches. Police determined the reptile somehow escaped its home next door and issued a citation against its owner, 23-year-old Shelby Guyette. The Winans family moved out of their apartment following the run-in with their neighbor's snake.”
Two-Year Girl Dies After Being Strangled by Pet Python in Florida
In July 2009, FoxNews.com reported: “A 2-year-old Florida girl died after being strangled by a pet python that escaped from its aquarium and attacked her in her crib, police said. Shaiunna Hare was strangled by the 8-foot, 5-inch snake as she slept after it got out of its tank in another room of the house, according to Sumter County Sheriff's Lt. Steve Binegar. Paramedics said the little girl was dead when they arrived at 10 a.m. Wednesday at the central Florida home in Oxford, about 50 miles northwest of Orlando. [Source: FoxNews.com, Associated Press, July 02, 2009]
Deputies told FOX Tampa affiliate WTVT that the live-in boyfriend of the little girl's mother may face charges for not having a permit for the snake, a Burmese python. Jaren Ashley Hare, 21, and her daughter shared the home with Hare's boyfriend, 32-year-old Charles Jason Darnell, deputies said. "The baby's dead!" a sobbing caller from the house screamed to a 911 dispatcher in a recording. "Our stupid snake got out in the middle of the night and strangled the baby." Authorities did not identify the caller and removed the person's name from the recording.
Darnell told investigators that he put the snake in a bag inside its aquarium Tuesday night. But when he woke up Wednesday morning, he said, the snake was gone. He found it wrapped around the girl in her crib. Darnell stabbed the snake repeatedly to free the little girl, but the toddler already had been strangled. The snake also bit her on the head, the station reported. He called 911 after he pried the python away from the child. "She got out of the cage last night and got into the baby's crib and strangled her to death," a caller said in the 911 tape. The pet had already escaped once earlier that night, WTVT said.
Authorities removed the snake from the small house, bordered by cow pastures, Wednesday afternoon after obtaining a search warrant. Once outside the python was placed in a bag, which was put inside a dog crate. It was still alive. Deputies say Darnell did not have the $100 permit required to own a python in Florida, which is a second-degree misdemeanor. He has not been charged, but Sumter County Sheriff's Lt. Bobby Caruthers said investigators were looking into whether there was child neglect or if any other laws were broken.
George Van Horn, owner of Reptile World Serpentarium in St. Cloud, said the strangulation could have occurred because the snake felt threatened or because it thought the child was food. "They are always operating on instinct," he said. "Even the largest person can become overpowered by a python." Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation spokeswoman Joy Hill said the snake will be placed with someone who has a permit, pending an investigation into the girl's death.
Python-Owning Couple Sentenced to 12 Years in Prison Over Death of Child
The Orlando Sentinel reported: Charles "Jason" Darnell and his girlfriend Jaren Hare — reptile-loving couple accused of failing to protect Shaianna Rose Hare, Hare's 2-year-old daughter, who was killed by an 8-foot-6-inch pet python — were each sentenced 12 years in prison. Each faced a possible 45 years in prison for manslaughter and child neglect. They turned down a pretrial plea offer that would have capped their prison time at 10 years. The toddler was bitten and strangled by Gypsy, an albino Burmese python that slithered from a glass tank in the couple's mobile home in Oxford, a rural community located about 60 miles northwest of Orlando. [Source: Stephen Hudak, Orlando Sentinel, September 19, 2011]
A medical examiner testified that the snake was trying to eat the child. The snake, which, at 13 1/2 pounds, was grossly underweight, repeatedly escaped the 200-gallon tank, which had a quilt as a lid, before the fatal attack on July 1, 2009. A snake expert testified during the couple's trial that an albino Burmese python of Gypsy's age should have weighed about 150 pounds.
Both were found guilty last month by a six-member jury of manslaughter, felony murder in the third degree and child neglect. Defense lawyers, J. Rhiannon Arnold and Ismael Solis Jr., had characterized the girl's death as a horrible accident, arguing the couple had regarded the constrictor snake as a docile family pet. They sometimes took the snake on car rides and let their children handle it.
Manslaughter ordinarily is punishable by up to 15 years in prison, but because the victim was a child the potential maximum penalty was double. The couple also was convicted of felony murder in the third degree because they were committing the felony offense of child neglect when the child died. They cannot be sentenced on both manslaughter and felony murder in the third degree because the charges involved the same death.
A juror who spoke with reporters after the trial on the condition that her name and image were not published said the panel thought the couple had honestly convinced themselves that the snake was not a danger. "But we also felt that, as the adult parents and caregivers, their responsibility was to preclude any chance that there could be an incident of any kind (with the snake) because the 2-year-old could not protect herself," she said.
Before the tragedy, Hare's mother, Sheryl, who was concerned for her granddaughter's safety, had offered to keep the snake at her home in Marion County which had a large, locked container in a bathroom. She also offered to ask her husband to construct a holding tank with a secure lid and buy rats for Gypsy. With her mother's permission, Jaren Hare bought the snake at a flea market when she was 14.
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: National Geographic, Natural History magazine, Smithsonian magazine, Wikipedia, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, The Guardian, Top Secret Animal Attack Files website, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, The Economist, BBC, and various books and other publications.
Last updated May 2014