Python in the Fence


These stunning photos, taken at the Silent Valley Game Ranch in South Africa, have been circulating in email forwards with the following bogus story:

Seems a sheep farmer was puzzled about the disappearance of some sheep on his farm. After a
few weeks the farmer decided to put up an electric fence.

About a week later, this is what he found!

Now, I know we've all heard of people being
eaten by snakes & I bet most of us have said,

'If a snake tried to eat me, I'd blah,
blah, blah & get away.'

Well, this is a Python & they're extremely
aggressive & have a few teeth that they use to hold their prey while they wrap around them
& then constrict..

Could you get away if this one bit you & held on with it's
"few teeth"?

(Note: The wires are 10 inches apart)

The real story, according to Silent Valley (as reported on Snopes.com) is that the massive rock python ate an impala and then couldn't fit under the fence. It got stuck and died there. The game-ranchers dissected it and removed the full-grown impala.

Rock pythons really can hurt people, and in a few cases have. But there's no evidence they do so in the wild. It's only when they're confined as pets that they come into conflict with people. As for the claim that a farmer was losing sheep: one sheep would last even a huge snake for months. They're not threats to livestock production.



Update: A later post provides evidence of pythons preying on people and other mammals in the wild.

More Posts about Pythons

Slideshow: Dangerous Snakes of the World

12 comments:

  1. I find it interesting that you say rock pythons don´t attack people in the wild. I remember reading somewhere about a child in South Africa (or another African country, my memory fails to me this time) who was out collecting mangoes with some friends when he was suddenly attacked by a rock python. The other children climbed up the tree and didn´t dare going back to the ground until the python finished its meal and slithered away.
    I also remember another case in which a rock python actually tried to lift a man up a tree with its coils but the man managed to free himself. Seems to me that the only reason why rock pythons don´t attack people more often is because they are rarely allowed to reach a large size anymore. What do you think?

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  2. When I was working on Deadly Kingdom, I looked into a story that sounds a lot like the one you mention about the child eaten in the wild; it turned out to be unverifiable and, as I recall, began to look a lot like folklore the further I tracked it back. I don't know a specific story like the other one you mention, but it doesn't sound plausible to me because big constrictors generally don't hunt that way. They normally ambush the prey and kill it where it is. Moving it before it's dead would leave a much great possibility of the snake getting hurt as it splits its resources between locomotion and constriction.

    There are, in fact, many other tales of people eaten by big constrictors in the wild, but I couldn't find any that led back to specific, verifiable reports with names and dates. That doesn't prove them false, but, considering how much false lore I encounter about animals of all kinds, I choose to regard those reports are unlikely until I come across firmer evidence.

    I can definitely say that the amethystine python has attacked children in the wild, and that at least five constrictor species have actually killed people in captive situations. Beyond that, my mind is open, but so far my files are empty.

    One interesting fact that emerges from captive attacks is that snakes seem not to eat people, even after killing them, even when they are hungry, even when they have the opportunity. News reports are often reticent about gruesome details, but so far I haven't been able to document a case of a human actually eaten by a snake, even though there are cases in which hours elapsed between the killing and the discovery of it. (I should note that I came across many stories of man-eating that turned out to be internet hoaxes and the like.) I don't know why this should be the case, since most other large meat-eating animals are willing to take humans when they get hungry enough. One possibility is that they don't like the taste or smell of us. In the wild, they have opportunities to smell many kinds of animals small enough to prey on. Presumably they attack the ones that seem most edible and least dangerous. In captivity, they are exposed to a very limited set of stimuli, and I suggest that they sometimes exercise their hunting instincts even if the victim is not, after all, palatable.

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    Replies
    1. I know of a policeman killed by a python in Jos Nigeria in 2010. other colleague shot the beast and recovered his body.

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  3. Oh, and I forgot to answer your last question. It’s really hard to trust reports about the size of snakes. There’s just so much exaggeration. I certainly have observed people killing big snakes in the belief that they’re saving others from getting attacked. Has the general size of the constrictors decreased under this kind of pressure? I can’t prove it, but probably. And in predator-prey relations, size does matter. So if I’m wrong about snakes finding humans unpalatable, there’s no reason to suppose they left humans alone. It may be that it’s only Westernized humans, with our artificial shampoos and deodorants, that smell repulsive to snakes.

    By the way, some scientists think our prehistoric ancestors were prey for snakes bigger than any seen on earth today. Snakes used to get much bigger because the earth was warm enough to support them. A big constrictor from the Cretaceous (well before any human-like animals existed), for example, weighed about ten times what the largest Rock python does.

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    Replies
    1. What about this story??? Here is some verifiable proof. Right? http://www.weirdasianews.com/2008/10/30/grown-woman-eaten-python-graphic/

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    2. That one's a hoax. The photo has been floating around the web for at least a decade, attached to different explanations (the gender of the victim switches, as does the location of the incident). The photo itself is believed to be a fake.

      However, there have been a couple of studies claiming pythons eat people in the wild. I mention one of those in a later post: http://deadlykingdom.blogspot.com/2012/01/pythons-prey-on-people-and-other.html
      I have reservations about the way the information was gathered in those studies, but they are certainly not to be dismissed out of hand.

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  4. Weird... I thought I had replied to this last night.
    Anyways, thanks a lot for your anwers- very interesting suggestion, snakes finding us unpalatable due to the chemicals we use. They do have very developed senses of smell and taste, so I wouldn`t be surprised.
    I agree about the size does matter part. I worked for a brief while in a zoo handling reptiles- there was one particular male Burmese python who most obviously saw small children as prey. He never paid any attention to adults, but children couldn`t go anywhere near him because he would instantly go into predatory mood (just like when he was about to be fed). To this day, I am convinced that the only reason he didn`t pay attention to adults is because somehow he knew they were simply too big to eat. Interesting part is, there were other large pythons in the zoo and none of them seemed to care much about humans of any age/size.

    I'm curious about the giant Cretaceous constrictor you mention. I take it you're talking about Madtsoia? It's the only Cretaceous giant snake I can think of. Titanoboa is much more famous nowadays, but it lived after the end of the Cretaceous...

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  5. Fencing is one of the most important pieces in farm infrastructure. A good farm fencing system will keep harmful predators out while allowing your livestock to come in.

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  6. Croconut, you caught me with my dates down. I was thinking of Titanoboa, but I remembered its dates wrong. (For others who may be interested, Titanoboa lived about 58-60 million years ago, whereas the Cretaceous ended about 65 mya.)

    That's interesting about the Burmese--and terrifying. I had a post up a while back about zoo cats taking an interest in little kids. Some parents seemed to think it was cute, but that wasn't quite the lesson I was getting from it.

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  7. True, although I'm an adult and I seem to trigger all the predatory instincts of the jaguars in my local zoo anyways- drooling and all. :>

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  8. They Are Vey Dangerous i Was Watching Discovery Channel and I See The Python Just eat The Por Alligator ! I was Like Oh My !

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  9. You might enjoy this related post about pythons and alligators:
    http://deadlykingdom.blogspot.com/2011/11/python-eats-alligator-and-other.html

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