An animal that provokes fear with only saying its name. This is the burden of the snake

When I started my job at the zoo, my first concern was that I had to take care of snakes and other reptiles. I had never done that!

Luckily for me there was a caretaker that had a lot of experience and taught me how to take good care of them.

Of course I started first with the smallest and less dangerous ones, the iguanas and the royal python. But soon I took care of the big boas as well.

Fear of snakes

I wasn’t especially afraid of snakes, since I was used to them at our family’s place. However, it is funny how people react when you say the word SNAKE. These animals are feared since forever. Maybe it is because they are so different from us mammals, without legs, with scales, a sharp head and cold blooded. Or maybe it is because they are represented mostly as evil symbols (like the snake in Adam and Eve’s garden).

A lot of people think that snakes are dangerous because they have venom, but actually only 1/3 of the snakes are venomous. Only 30-40 species are harmful for humans, which means less than 2%, and most of them live in Australia.

 

Special care

When working with the Royal Python, I realised that these animals need a very specific care.

Snakes don’t have cold blood, they just don’t produce heat (like mammals and birds) and they regulate their temperature depending on the weather.  In order to do this, they have to go from a warm place to a colder one and vice versa. If you take care of them, it is very important that you provide them a warm place and a cooler one.

Royal Pythons also need a source of water, not only for drinking (yes, they drink!), but also to provide enough humidity so that they can change their skin without any problems. Stones are also needed; they use them to get rid of their old skin, just because they don’t have hands to take it off.

How to handle a python?

When you handle snakes you need to differentiate between big snakes and small one. Small ones you can carry on your own, but for the bigger ones you need more people, so that you can carry them safely and without causing any harm or discomfort.

You also need to know how used the snake is to getting handled. If it is not used to humans or to get carried you have to grab its head to prevent it from turning and biting you.

Royal Pythons are small snakes, and the ones I took care of were very used to human presence. To carry them safely it is best to use both hands or if you cannot use both hands, give them enough support so that they feel comfortable (your arm or close to your body).

Don’t squeeze the snake when you hold it, support it loosely!

 

How do they eat

The royal python eats meat and their diet consist of small birds and rodents.

But if they don’t have poison, how do they kill their prey? Pythons are constrictors, which means that they wrap their long body around the prey and start to tighten their mortal hug. The prey dies because their blood doesn’t flow anymore and they also can’t breath.

Facts about the Royal Python

  • Non venomous snake
  • They kill by constriction
  • Belly scales are bigger and they allow the snake to move
  • Their scales are made of keratin and that is why they shine (not because they are slimy)
  • Smallest python in Africa
  • Roll up into a ball as defence mechanism
  • Most common pet snake
  • They can live up to 40 years in captivity (20 years in the wild)
  • They are usually brown and black
  • Due to pet trade they select them to have different colours that would not occur in the wild (like albino snakes)
  • They are hunted for pet trade, meat and their skin
  • Royal python is called that way because African kings and queens wore them as jewellery as a sign of power.

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