Are there giant pythons in Bali?
Last night at 10 p.m., I heard our neighbor shouting “Ada ular, Pak" (There is a snake!). Sure enough, there in the shadows of their kitchen I could just make out the coils of a dark serpent. Two days before, I had caught a little cobra in the same place. But this time it was a baby reticulated python, beautifully marked, and not at all aggressive. It made no attempt to bite me as I picked it up. From its size – about 30 cm long I guessed that it was just a few months old. It cannot have crawled far from its birthplace, so where there are baby pythons, there must also be adults nearby! After photographing it, I shall let it go again, in a place where it cannot get into further trouble. For those of us who actually like snakes, 2011 has been a great year in Bali. It seems that the prolonged rainy season has provided the ideal conditions necessary for these animals to bred and thrive. In addition, the continued spread of human habitation means there is much more garbage, more rats, and therefore more rat-eating snakes. As the wild forested areas shrink, many snakes move into towns and villages where rodents are plentiful. Indonesia is home to two of the biggest snakes on earth- the reticulated python (known locally as “Ular sanca” or “lipi saab”) and the Burmese python. They can grow to over 10m – longer even than the South American Anaconda (which lives in water and may be heavier). Both types lay clutches of large, soft-shelled eggs in decaying vegetation. The colourful patterning of their skins makes them difficult to see in the forest. Reticulated and Burmese pythons both live in Bali, but nowadays, sightings of really big animals are rare. People here will tell you that pythons never grow above 3 metres long. There are several reasons why we don’t see them anymore. First, these reptiles continue growing throughout their lives, and can live for over 40 years in captivity. Now that is a very long time for a snake to avoid its main predators – human beings! Just look at the sizes of the skins of snakes used to make handbags in the snakeskin shops in Ubud and elsewhere. Some of the snakes killed for their skins must have been huge! (and remember, there are no commercial “Snake farms” here in Indonesia – all snakeskin products come from wild caught snakes).Second, in the forest, any python over 3m long will be able to eat quite a large food item, such as a young deer or pig. Once the forests are gone, pythons are attracted to the smells of domestic animals, including chickens, goats, cats and dogs. Stories of farm animals being killed and eaten are quite common, and pythons are known to try to eat pet dogs and cats – the prized pedigree pets of foreigners living here appear to be especially at risk! But a big python kills its food by constriction – wrapping its body around the animal and squeezing until it can no longer breathe. Swallowing the meal can take over an hour, and the snake is at its most vulnerable when eating its prey whole. Snakes will often regurgitate their food if disturbed, and then try to get away, leaving a slimy mess behind. Occasionally, a really big python tries to eat a human being, as happened last year in north Sumatra. A small boy playing in the river was attacked and killed by a big python. His friends heard his cries for help, but were too late to save him. The snake released his lifeless body, and slithered into a deep hole. Python attacks on humans are increasingly rare – some of the biggest snakes are now only found in remote jungles or deep in caves. The largest python I have ever seen in Bali had been dragged out of one of the drains in Denpasar. It was over 4m long, which is still a good size. I like to imagine that there are still monster snakes living in the dark wet tunnels under our feet, right here in the city, gorging themselves on the thousands of rats that also live there! A young girl was bitten by a python while playing in a garden in Ubud last year. The resting snake must have been disturbed, for it bit the girl on the leg and immediately let go. This was a defensive bite – the snake was not trying to eat anyone! But here we have the root of the problem. People everywhere are moving into areas where snakes have lived quietly for millennia, and there are bound to be the occasional conflicts. Most people just kill any snake without realizing that, without snakes, there will be many more rats around. But there simply isn’t enough room anymore for both people and snakes to live in harmony– and of course the snakes will be the losers in the long run. For the time being, though, these interesting and misunderstood reptiles are still very much around. The baby python I caught is proof of that!
For all enquires about snakes and other wildlife, please contact: Ron Lilley firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com Mobile H/P 0813 3849 6700