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The sick python photographed the day after its arrival at ACCB last Thursday.​
The sick python photographed the day after its arrival at ACCB last Thursday.​ PHOTO SUPPLIED ACCB

Sick python not the full monty

An ailing underweight but monstrous 5.15 metre python is recovering at Angkor Centre for Conservation of Biodiversity (ACCB) after a villager found it in a rice paddy.

The reticulated python, thought to be a female because of its large size, is suffering from malnutrition and minor dehydration, and will be kept at the centre with the aim of nursing it back to health before releasing it into the wild.

The python was found two weeks prior to arriving at the centre by a villager in O Krouch village, Trapeang Prasat district, Oudor Meanchey Province. Given the general widespread dislike of snakes, it seems this one had a lucky escape as rather than kill it, another villager took a liking to it and decided to buy it.

“I think they had a strong religious belief that this was a holy snake, maybe because of the big size,” said ACCB animal keeper Michael Meyerhoff. “As far as I understood it, they believed that a god was living inside the snake, I think it has something to do with the naga. So they decided to bring it to the Angkor area to release it there, but then the local rangers convinced them otherwise.”

A prayer ceremony for the python at the Ministry of Environment's Angkor Protected Landscape Office - attendees included monks, members of the local community and officials from the Ministry of Environment.​
A prayer ceremony for the python at the Ministry of Environment's Angkor Protected Landscape Office - attendees included monks, members of the local community and officials from the Ministry of Environment.​ PHOTO SUPPLIED

He said the villagers had a ceremony led by monks at Angkor Wat, adding that he “could see in their faces” that the villagers really believed that the snake represented something sacred and that’s why they want ACCB staff to release the snake in the holy Angkor precinct if possible when it recuperates.

After prayers at Angkor Wat, the ceremony moved to the Angkor Ranger Station for a final farewell to the snake in front of about 60 sixty people including monks, forestry administration officials and villagers.

ACCB project manager Toby Bakos pointed out that when the snake heals and is released in the wilds of Angkor Archaeological Park, it wouldn’t necessarily pose any dangers to visitors to the temples.

He said the park is quite a large area, and its “something to be determined” whether centre staff can coordinate with the rangers to find an appropriate location where it could be placed far enough away from people, and where the snake’s home range would keep it pretty much isolated.

“Somewhere where it wouldn’t end up in the same situation or end up getting into somebody’s livestock and killing chickens or whatever,” he said.

“But I think just to honour the villagers’ intention would be really an appropriate thing for ACCB to at least exhaust the park as a potential place to release the snake.”

The python was in fairly poor health when it arrived at the centre last week, with fewer fat deposits than normal, and a little dehydrated. The centre’s staff are now trying to tempt the python with fresh chicken and duck. To date, it has refused food but Meyerhoff said this is not necessarily critical yet.

“It’s a bit skinny and it looked dehydrated and not in the best condition,” said Meyerhoff. “Feeding might be a problem because it’s a snake from the wild, not a pet snake, so it’s not used to dead prey, but we will try feeding it again.

“Reticulated pythons are quite active, but before mating season they can easily starve for three months or longer – so it’s not very critical. But for releasing purposes of course we have to make sure that it’s in a good body condition.”

Reticulated pythons are one of the largest snakes in the world, found throughout Southeast Asia, and can grow over six metres in length

All hands on deck for the measuring of the snake -  one staff member per metre.​
All hands on deck for the measuring of the snake - one staff member per metre.​ PHOTO SUPPLIED

But Meyerhoff said it is rare to find a python as big as the ailing snake in the wild in Cambodia, because villagers would probably kill it to eat it before it attained such a length.

Bakos added, “I think probably anywhere near human habitation, snakes once they get to a certain size are definitely prone to being harmed by humans.”

Staff at the centre are learning how to handle such a large snake – very carefully.

For safety reasons, when handling snakes over three metres long ACCB allocates one member of staff per reptilian metre, so it took five members of staff to measure this beast.

The python will be kept at the centre until it is fully rehabilitated, before releasing it into the wild, away (hopefully) from people.

“In general we expect to keep animals for at least one or two months to do proper examinations, but it’s hard to say how long it will take,” Meyerhoff said “Here at least we have a veterinarian and we can leave it in peace, so I think from stress point of view its better off here.” ​

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