Saturday, July 11, 2009

Pythons in my neighbourhood

Reticulated python (Broghammerus reticulatus), Singapore Zoo;
(Photo by dbillian)

Although I've yet to find a wild reticulated python (Broghammerus reticulatus), I'm aware that they are relatively common, and are often encountered even in urban areas of Singapore. Still, I was greatly surprised to find a news article that revealed the presence of at least one large python in my neighbourhood.

$550 to catch snake? I'd do it myself
HDB flat owner grabs snake's head; puts it in pillowcase, then into empty fish tank
July 09, 2009

SHE was doing her ironing in the living room of her HDB flat when she heard a loud thud.

Thinking that something had fallen, Mrs Allysia Tan checked the flat, but did not find anything amiss.

Five minutes later, she heard another, softer, thud.

This time, when she went into the master bedroom, she was horrified to see a snake about 3m long, slithering on the floor.

Frightened by the snake, which she described as grey with green spots and huge fangs, she ran out of the room.

The incident happened at about 12.20pm on Monday when Mrs Tan and her daughter, Chrissia, 6, were in their four-room flat at Block 409, Tampines Street 41.

Their unit is on the 12th storey, the highest in the block.

Mrs Tan, 40, said she called the police and was told by an officer that he would call her back.

She said that when she called the Tampines Town Council, she was told that it could not help as the snake was not in a public area.

Mrs Tan then called her housing agent husband, Mr Christopher Tan, 52, and SMSed her eldest daughter, Miss Charmaine Tan, 24.

Mr Tan told The New Paper: 'I thought my wife was exaggerating about the size of the snake. I didn't expect that such a huge snake can be found in a HDB flat.'

Mrs Tan figured that the snake probably made its way into the house through the master bedroom window.

'The first sound I heard could be from it falling onto the aircon compressor, and the second sound from it falling on the room's floor,' she said.

She said the police officer called her back at about 12.45pm and gave her the number of a pest control company, PestBusters.

By this time, Mr Tan had rushed home from his office in Toa Payoh.

When Mrs Tan called PestBusters, she said she was quoted $120 for the snake to be removed. She agreed to the price.

Mr Tan found the snake in the wardrobe of the master bedroom.

'I moved a plastic box inside and saw the snake,' he said.

'I jumped back in shock. It was coiled up around the metal poles of the shelves.'

Pest controllers

While waiting for the pest controllers, Mr Tan tried to catch the snake using a bamboo pole with the help of The New Paper photojournalist Kelvin Chng, who arrived at the scene at 1.45pm.

But the snake tried to attack them, and they gave up.

At 2.30pm, Miss Tan, a part-time sales assistant, arrived home after work.

She said that based on her knowledge of reptiles, the snake looked like a reticulated python. Native to South-east Asia, it's the world's longest snake and can grow up to 9m.

Miss Tan showed us a book on reptiles and also called her younger brother, Mark, a 20-year-old NSF, who was in camp.

Based on her description, he agreed that it was most probably a reticulated python.

He told Miss Tan that they should use gloves to grab the snake and put it into a pillow case.

At 2.45pm, two pest controllers arrived.

After seeing the snake, they told the Tans they would have to charge them $550 as the snake was longer than they expected. (See report above, right).

Mr Tan said: '$550? I might as well do it myself.'

Then, he grabbed the snake's head, while Miss Tan caught hold of the tail.

They put the snake inside a pillow case, tied and put the case into a empty fish tank, which they covered with a metal sheet, with bricks on top.

Miss Tan's boyfriend then carried the tank and placed it outside their flat.

Miss Tan said she contacted wildlife charity Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres) on Monday night to pick up the snake.

When The New Paper checked with her last night, she said the snake was still outside their unit.

The Tans threw out the shelves in their wardrobe as the snake had urinated on them.

Miss Tan joked: 'Maybe the snake was scared too.'

Audrey Tan Ruiping, newsroom intern

A python of this size is certainly capable of posing some threat to human life. I'm pleased to see that the family didn't panic and try to kill the snake, and that the python was eventually caught unharmed.

I've handled some of the smaller, more harmless snakes with my bare hands before; these included Brahminy blind snakes (Ramphotyphlops braminus), a house wolf snake (Lycodon capucinus), and a yellow-lipped water snake (Gerarda prevostiana). I've gotten close to an Oriental whip snake (Ahaetulla prasina) and a paradise tree snake (Chrysopelea paradisi), and have also posed for pictures with captive reticulated pythons draped over my shoulders. Still, I would probably hesitate before attempting to wrestle with a python of this size, and would stand back while waiting for professional assistance.

Erie Zoo;
(Photo by Butterfly923)

A reticulated python has a mouth full of long sharp teeth, which are useful for getting a firm grip on prey covered in fur or feathers. These teeth can certainly do a lot of damage should the python strike at a person in self-defense, leaving deep lacerations.

Pythons are thought to be non-venomous, so a python bite, while messy and bloody, shouldn't be life-threatening. However, the open wounds may become infected, so it is important to ensure that they are promptly cleaned and disinfected.

And it's not just the head that any potential snake wrangler needs to look out for; a frightened snake will sometimes evacuate its bowels and leave a disgusting mess. Naturally, the larger the snake, the bigger the mess. I presume this is what happened with the shelves in the wardrobe, since snakes don't really urinate the way mammals do.

Even if a single person is able to overpower a python and grab the head and tail, the python may still throw its coils around the perceived threat, which can quickly escalate into a dangerous situation if the snake should start tightening its grip. This is one reason why it is foolhardy and risky to attempt to handle large constrictors alone, even if it's a captive that seems tame and docile. One can never underestimate the power and strength of these snakes.

It is nice to know that this story has a happy ending for all.

Captured python released in forest
Tampines family declines AVA offer to take snake to zoo
July 10, 2009

THE 3m-long python which terrified a family in their Tampines flat is now back in the wild where it belongs.

After being caught on Monday, the reptile spent the night in an enclosed empty fish tank in the corridor outside the flat.

Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority (AVA) officers yesterday offered to take the snake to the zoo.

But Miss Charmaine Tan, 24, a part-time sales assistant, and her brother chose to release it into the wild instead.

At about 3pm, her boyfriend dropped by to pick up the tank and drove to a forested area in Mandai to release the snake.

Said Miss Tan: 'My brother and I feel responsible for the python, and since it's a wild animal, we thought that it shouldn't be held captive.'

The New Paper reported yesterday that the python had made its way into the Tans' 12th-floor flat in Tampines.

The family called a pest control company, but they ended up catching the python themselves after they couldn't agree on a price.

Miss Tan and her father, Christopher, 52, a housing agent, then put it into a pillowcase and secured it by tying a knot.

They placed the pillowcase into a 50cm-long fish tank that Miss Tan's boyfriend had brought.

Very strong

The family placed a metal sheet on top of the tank and weighed it down with bricks so the snake, which Mr Tan described as strong, could not escape.

Mr Tan covered the glass portion of the tank so that their neighbours would not be alarmed.

'We knew that the snake couldn't escape since it was tied up inside the pillow case and was in the glass tank,' said Miss Tan.

When her brother, full-time national serviceman Mark Tan, 20, returned home at about 7pm on Monday night, he called the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres) to pick up the snake.

But he was told that Acres could not keep the snake.

'Instead, they told us to release it into a heavily forested area,' said Miss Tan.

She said that she knew of only two forests - in Mandai and MacRitchie. Since the Mandai forest is more isolated, Miss Tan and her brother decided to release the snake there.

An AVA spokesman said that it was not illegal to release the snake into the jungle.

Audrey Tan Ruiping, newsroom intern

It does make me wonder how a python of such size could have ended up on the 12th storey of an apartment block. There are plenty of records of large pythons in residential areas, but it is intriguing to read about one being found on the upper levels. While we cannot discount the possibility of it being someone's escaped pet, I am willing to believe that this was a wild python.

Block 409 is just next to Sunplaza Park, which isn't exactly a biodiversity hotspot, but which probably does support a healthy population of urban wildlife. There are also large areas of forested land nearby, just across Sungei Tampines. So it's possible that the python had wandered into the housing estate from these areas, or that it had been living in the canal all along, moving around via the drains and sewers.

Singapore Zoo;
(Photo by apocalypse22001)

Did the python come crawling up the sewers, emerging from the toilet bowl in the Tans' flat? An escaped reticulated python showed up in a New York toilet earlier this year. Here in Singapore, there is an earlier case of a python that was found in a Depot Road apartment, only to escape via the toilet, where it was found and caught 2 days later. I recall an article from the early 90s about a poor chap who was sitting on the toilet bowl, only to get bitten in a most sensitive spot by a python.

Very interesting encounter, and at least it's one that doesn't end with the snake getting hacked into pieces or having its head bashed in. Hopefully one day, I'll get to find a python in my neighbourhood.

For more posts on pythons, check out the following posts:

Beware of pythons in S'pore: Just look at this snake swallowing a kangaroo (12th May 2009)
Snake on the loose slithers down Woodlands street (29th April 2009)
Snake found in Yuan Ching Sec (7th February 2009)
10 ft python found at Pasir Ris HDB void deck (15th January 2009)