7 pythons

7 pythons

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A python guards her eggs in a hollow beneath a wall of Phum Thmei Pagoda, where seven pythons share the comppound with monks and pagado boys. Photograph: Roth Meas/Phnom Penh Post

Although it’s possible to domesticate some deadly wild animals, most people would prefer to see the deadlier members of the animal kingdom kept in cages, but at a pagoda about eight kilometres past the airport on Highway No 4 seven pythons have free rein.

The pythons have lived at Phum Thmei Pagoda as pets and so far there have been no nasty incidents with the monks they share the compound with, or the visitors who gather for prayer.

“We didn’t catch them,” said Venerable Sor Chamroeun, the head monk at the pagoda. “All of them came to live here on their own. They show themselves to us quite often by hanging themselves off the buildings or crawling along the ground. One of the smaller pythons even hid inside my bag once.”

Four of the pythons are quite large, and Sor Chamroeun believes that these are all female. The biggest is about 70 kilos. The three smaller pythons are believed to be male. Sometimes they play with the pagoda boys or the monks, but now is their breeding season and three of the pythons are coiled over their eggs.

“They are gentle. We can touch them like dogs or cats. But right now they don’t want us to get close to their nests because they are protecting their eggs,” the monk says. “They always make a warning sound when we get too close.”

The eggs will hatch over the next two months and Sor Chamroeun intends to let the offspring roam freely, saying he does not believe they will cause a problem.

He is well aware that pythons are dangerous and can swallow other animals whole, even those that exceed their width.

“Yes, it’s dangerous! As I was told by my predecessors, they can swallow our bodies if their track size is the same as our footprint. But one or two of the pythons here are bigger than our footprints, so they can even swallow a cow,” Sor Chamroeun says

He is not worried, however: the pythons have ample prey besides the people who reside in or visit the pagoda.

Mao Koemly, the pagoda’s caretaker, says that he feeds the monkeys, dogs, cats and turtles kept at the pagoda, but the pythons are able to find food freely.

“I have never fed the pythons because they can catch food by themselves. Our pythons eat only rats, and there are a lot of rats here, so they don’t even need to go outside of the pagoda compound,” he explains.

“People who live around here know that the pythons belong to our pagoda, so they don’t kill them when they occasionally see them inside their house.”

Despite their relaxed attitude to their reptilian neighbours, all of the caretakers and monks in the pagoda are equipped with walkie-talkies so that they can alert each other to anything out of the ordinary.

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