Sunday, 16 March 2014

What could have killed the Borrowdale python!?


The discovery of a dead 2,93 metre African rock python along Borrowdale Road in Harare last week generated a lot of theories.

While the traditionalists were quick to link the snake to Satanism and ritualism, a post-mortem of the reptile came up with an equally fascinating angle. Reports that a woman driving a top-of-the-range vehicle dumped the python after confessing to missing her husband added some flesh to the ritualism theory.

The sheer size of the python and its bulging belly made some, especially those on social media, to opine that the reptile had fed on the supposedly missing husband.

Therefore, with such theories, the post-mortem carried out by the Department of Veterinary Services' Wildlife Veterinary Unit was of paramount importance. What had the snake eaten? What killed it? Just how old was it?

These and many other questions were expected to be addressed by the post-mortem. In his report, Dr Tapiwanashe Hanyire, who carried out the post-mortem, noted that the python was in an advanced state of decomposition.

"The animal was 2,93m long, and there were no bruises or scratches on the body except the head. The python's body was thick and covered with coloured blotches. The scales were small and clear. The triangular head and eyes were crushed horizontally which could be suggestive of death. No other gross pathological lesions were observed," he noted.

But what was in the python's belly?

"The snake had significant digested material in the stomach. The lungs were inflated when the carcass was opened. The animal had a good body condition with significant body fat and there were thousands of eggs in the ovaries," reads part of the report.

It emerged last week that the python was taken to the Vet Department by the Veterinarians for Animal Welfare in Zimbabwe (VAWZ). VAWZ chairperson Ms Mel Hood rubbished claims that the python was used for ritualism.

What could have killed the python in Borrowdale!?
She pointed out that the area from which the reptile was picked up is bound to have several of such snakes since it is rocky and swampy.

"We have been called in, several times in that area, to collect such kinds of snakes," she said.

Ms Hood suggested that the snake could have been killed after eating someone's domestic animals in the area. She described its killing as cruel and called on people to call her organisation or the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Authority when they come across such animals.

"It is important for people to appreciate the importance of calling responsible authorities when they come across wild animals," she said.

Parks Authority officials confirmed receiving the python's carcass from the Vet Department for disposal.

Python sebae, commonly known as the African rock python, is a large, non-venomous snake of Sub-Saharan Africa. The African rock python is one of seven species in the genus Python . It has two subspecies : one found in Central and Western Africa, the other in Southern Africa. The snake is found in a variety of habitats, from forests to near deserts, although usually near sources of water.

The African rock python kills its prey by constriction and often eats animals up to the size of antelope, occasionally even crocodiles. The snake reproduces by egg-laying. The snake is widely feared even though it very rarely kills humans. Although the snake is not endangered, it does face threats from habitat reduction and hunting.

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