They have been seen as symbols of evil for millennia: the Biblical serpent and snake demons of Hinduism among others. They have also been revered in some cultures and even thought to be sacred. Snakes and humans have a relationship that is fraught with conflict; the one-on-one conflicts usually ends in the death of one party or the other. At any rate, snakes have long been regarded with a mixture of horror, revulsion and fascination.
The python molurus molurus (or the Indian python) is steered clear of too. The reptile is found mainly in the jungles of South Asia-more specifically in India, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka. It dwells among trees where it can camouflage itself well because it has a brown, yellow or whitish colouring speckled with tan and black. The Indian Python also is a good swimmer, preferring to live near water where it can prey on fish in addition to mammals and birds. Now legless, the Indian Python displays spurs on its body, signs that its ancestors-thought to be prehistoric lizards-had some form of legs. It is interesting to note that even though these tiny projections seem of no use to the python, in terms of mobility, they come in handy when reproducing.
The reality of the threats that the Indian python faces is dismal. For centuries humans have killed and continue to kill pythons out of fear. Various snakes are killed for food and their skins; the skins of pythons and other kinds of snakes are made into fashionable accessories such as shoes, handbags, wallets and belts. Moreover, the python’s jungle habitat is in jeopardy because of the felling of trees for timber as well as for agriculture. The ever increasing human population and the fact that civilization has begun to venture into jungle territory is another cause for habitat loss. It is no surprise then that the python molurus molurus is endangered.
A friend tells interesting tales of an Indian python who lived with her family for a few months quite a few years back. The idea of snake-sitting a full-grown Indian python takes some getting used to, but my friend’s family had a remarkable attitude towards the snake, one they practice towards every animal. They know that if they don’t interfere too much with animals, animals will leave them alone. My friend’s mother especially seemed to respect the python and care about its welfare. She used to tell her children firmly-who were quite young and quite curious- to leave the snake in peace. That being said, my friend and her brother did walk about their house with the python wrapped around their bodies, much to the dismay of the family dog who used to bolt at the sight of the python.
The owner of the python, who lived with the family as well, loved that snake. The gentleman would want his pet to come into his bedroom at night and it would obey him accordingly. My friend was able to observe the reptile during the day and she realized that snakes don’t move unless they have to. She would try to play with the python with little or no success. She would make a shoelace flutter in front of it, to elicit a reaction from it, but soon became tired of the game because the python was very unresponsive.
It is difficult to tell whether the python was docile because of its upbringing or whether its species tend not to be ferocious. The owner used to feed the snake eggs for instance; he opened its mouth and placed several eggs inside. The pet reptile was never given meat- perhaps that’s why it never went in search of any kind of flesh! Indeed, when it comes to its fellow pythons in the wild, the habits does not vary too much. Even though the preferred method of capturing and killing prey is wrap its body around the animal of choice and to squeeze the life out of it, the Indian Python tends to exhibit timidity and so it rarely is quick to attack, contrary to popular belief.
However, my friend’s family made sure to close their bedroom doors at night as a precaution in the months when the python dwelt with them. Snakes in general, including the Indian python, are not interactive pets, as my friend pointed out, unlike the accepted household pets. Above all, they are exotic animals and should be allowed to roam free, preferably in areas where there is little human contact. Although I would not choose a snake for my animal companion and in fact would actively discourage a person thinking of it, lines from D.H. Lawrence’s poem Snake arouse my sympathies.
‘For he seemed to me… like a king,
Like a king in exile, uncrowned in the underworld’
By Lara Jayatilaka