Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Very Big Python

Driving along a sandy road, we came across a python who was entering the grass on the left of us. We got out of the car and watched as the python made its way through the grass and climbed a nearby tree, looking down at us from its perch. I was surprised by how close we could stand to the snake, while it just looked down at us. It blended in well, and I was surprised by how effortlessly it seemed to climb the tree. It was the largest and most active African snake I got a chance to see, and as always, I was thrilled to see something in the wild I'd never seen before.

The snake was thick, but there was not an obvious bulge where it had eaten something. The other day on Animal Planet I saw a sort of disturbing episode of Untamed and Uncut where some family on safari came across a phython that had just eaten something HUGE and it was laying there unable to move. The python got nervous as the people approached because they were getting too close. It couldn't move with the big meal, so it regurgitated the baby antelope it had just eaten. This means that it waited for a meal, had a successful hunt, went to the trouble of eating it and making and using a lot of saliva in the process, and then took the time to swallow it - all for nothing. And the baby antelope died in vain too, not getting to be a meal for the predator that took it. (Though in Africa, some other predators no doubt took advantage of the meal). This is really too bad - the guide should have moved the people back and not allowed them to stress the snake, if the people didn't have the sense to move back themselves.

Believe it or not, the python I saw was a beautiful animal. That trip I gained a new respect for snakes.


mhvdm said...

Actually, as one of the members of that family which witnessed that python barf up the python in Murchisson Falls Natl. Park (Uganda), I'd say in our defense that the the whole regurgitating move was a little unexpected. It was, however, also extremely cool and I can't say I regret, especially after having been paid for my interview. I'm sorry the python lost the meal, but he's a big boy and can take care of himself.

Esmae said...

I'm sure it *was* cool and unexpected, but in an ideal world we could travel to see species in the wild without stressing them like in this case. I realize it was an accident, and you can't be expected to know the parameters of what does and does not stress animals. The guide should know, however, and should do his best to minimize animal stress.

Unfortunately, in my experience, sometimes people ignore their guides, or in some cases even offer a monetary "bonus" for the guide looking the other way on the rules. It's hard for people so dependent on tourism to enforce the rules all the time. I'm not accusing your particular group of wrong doing, just commenting that it was very unfortunate that the python went to so much trouble to have a successful hunt and then ended up getting so stressed out that the meal, the effort and the saliva were all wasted.

I would hope getting paid for an interview does not impact your views on what is appropriate behavior. And generally, animals do take care of themselves in the wild, but we aren't helping them, in situations like this we are setting them back.

Part of why cheetahs have a population problem is that they have to hunt during the day and often lose prey to other predators. Studies have shown that tourists will interrupt cheetah hunts more than hunts of other animals, and also can help alert predators to a fresh kill.

We should try and be conscious of our impact on the animals when we travel.