Who let pythons out?

2013-08-31 00:00

DID two pythons spotted in Winters­kloof recently escape from a local snake collector? Or are they a sign of global warming? Experts are scratching their heads after reports that a team clearing bush in the hilly suburb near Hilton came across pythons in local gardens.

“Winterskloof is definitely not python country,” said Maritzburg snake expert Garth Carpenter. “They tend to live in thorn bush areas like Ashburton and Mpushini.”

Carpenter said he believed the snakes had probably escaped from a collector. “Lots of people keep Burmese pythons. It would be interesting to see the snakes to identify them.”

Burmese and African Rock Pythons are said to have similar colouring. The local snake can generally be distinguished by its tighter pattern of markings, while its foreign cousin has bolder patterns.

The first python, about two metres long, was found by Petros Bhengu, one of three “Green Bobbies” employed by the Winterskloof conservancy to eradicate alien plants. He was tugging on a large clump of wild ginger roots at the top of a bank, wondering why it was so heavy, when he realized that a large snake was curled up in the roots.

“Petros jumped down the bank,” said team leader Siphiwe Mofokeng. “At first we thought he was joking, but then we saw a small head appearing, and then a large body. The snake was moving slowly and looked like it had just eaten.”

The second python, estimated to be about three metres long, was spotted a week later in another garden where it was lying in the sun.

Kevin Healey is the owner of the property where the second python was found. He said he’d never seen a python in the vicinity but pedestrians had reported seeing them in St Michael’s Road a few years ago. He said he’d lost two ducks around the time the python was found in his garden.

Adrian Armstrong, animal ecologist for KZN Wildlife, said with global warming and an increase in temperatures it’s expected that species will start moving out of their normal habitats, but at this stage it’s not likely.

• shelaghm@witness.co.za

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