“The natural is so awesome that we need not go beyond it.”- Ruth Hermence Green.
I was out on a morning drive accompanied by Alistair and Pauline; we discussed the plan for the morning and headed towards the Beho Beho River in search of possibly some Collabus monkeys or whatever else the day’s adventure will bring our way. What we came across is the highlight for me of many years worth of catching, releasing, prodding and probing of snakes.
In the wild big Pythons are rare as most were exterminated so a 5 meters plus ,now that is a whole different category they are ghosts wisest of their kind, that leave shiny trails of where they slithered by silently and vanish into forests and rivers. So when we rounded a quiet bend and there strewn like a tapestry on the sand lying dead still with the anticipation of being discovered I was out of my skin to see a five meter plus African Rock Python . This snake is the find of my life! Before you could say HUH I was out of the truck, armed with my camera I had to get an up close look, the feel, the weight, the sex of this monster. Passion for snakes is an understatement; infatuation is a more the term used for someone like me. The excitement of this raced through me like electricity WOW! At 5-6m in length, it is the third largest snake in the world. The African rock python is the only large snake found on the African continent. It is very bulky and has a dark arrowhead shape on its head. Brown blotches outlined by black on tan background surround its body. They can get to be over 100kg. They look like they would be slimy, but they are dry and smooth to the touch. Like all snakes, the African rock python moves by slithering its body over the ground by two means of propulsion either caterpillar (which is in a straight reticular motion of moving the ribs forwards and backwards propelling the snake slowly forwards whilst stalking or when relaxed) and serpentine (The body is driven in a zig – zag motion this is used to escape or flee from predators). When the snake is small, predators, such as monitor lizards, crocodiles, birds of prey, cats, and pigs hunt the python. It’s funny that when this snake is all grown up, it hunts these animals for food. It has few predators as an adult, except for man.
After some gentle persuasion Saningo came to my assistance to pin the snake and have a closer look. A snake this big is not a one man job. They lunge and bite repeatedly to ward off danger, they have about eighty recurved canine like teeth that can inflict very painful lacerations. So the goal is to gain control of the “sharp” end. The African python is a carnivore which means they only eat meat. They eat Crocodiles, Warthogs, Impalas, birds and Rats. Normally they eat small animals but if hungry enough they will eat very large animals. They don’t chew their prey rather they swallow it whole thereafter very strong gastric acids will digest fur meat and bones. Starch ligaments hold the jaw together, which stretches out like a rubber band allowing it to swallow prey as big as a fully grown Impala ram. Farmers think the rock python is useful because they eat large cane rats.
It was a tug of war for about ten minutes before we safely had our hands on the snake and got a good look. The cloacul spurs were very big and the tail thin and long so it is a male. We removed a tick from the side of its lip and when we lifted it I guess the weight around sixty kilo’s (60kg).He had a few puncture scars and a few deformed scales so we can assume this snake has seen its share of fights with predators and prey.
African rock pythons occur throughout sub-Saharan Africa, although they avoid the driest deserts and the coolest mountain elevations. Two subspecies are recognized: Python sebae sebae, northern African rock pythons, and Python natalensis, southern African rock pythons. The northern subspecies is found from south of the Sahara to northern Angola, and from Senegal to Ethiopia and Somalia. The southern subspecies is found from Kenya, Zaire and Zambia south to the Cape of Good Hope. The two subspecies overlap in some areas of Kenya and northern Tanzania.
After enduring a few gentle probes and pulls, as always I let it go unharmed.