Slithering to Freedom

©Zanne De Bruin

On Friday, April 4 Donald and Juanita Strydom from Hoedspruit's Khamai Reptile Park took a rather unusual trip to Phalaborwa. To them and the mother of 28 little pythons this trip meant the end of almost six months' commitment and endurance.

Some time ago an illegally captured female python, about to lay eggs, was taken to Khamai Reptile Park where she was kept in an artificial nest.

Here she had time to recover from the trauma and injuries she sustained from being captured and kept in poor conditions. Soon after she arrived at the park she laid her eggs and late one Friday afternoon the eggs finally hatched.

Two weeks later Donald decided that the python and her babies were ready to be released. Organising the release took a while. It was important that the snakes were released in the same geographical area where the female was originally caught.

At the same time it was just as important to ensure that the people involved would understand what the capture and release was all about in order to ensure the mom and babies have a fair chance of survival.

With all the negotiations and arrangements out of the way there was only one thing left - to set them free. On Friday morning the group from the park met up with two men from the institution where the snakes were about to be released.

A short drive into the bush took the group to a place which was, according to Donald, ideal for both mother and babies. He pointed out that it was close to water and reasonably far from the residential area. The mother python hissed her disapproval with the unusual movement as the two men carried her deeper into the bush.

It was obvious that the babies were more than ready for their new life. They were clearly in the mode of movement as they constantly attempted to get out of the container. However, when Donald turned the container over, leaving a heap of little scaly bodies behind, it took them a while to gather the courage to set off into the wild.

They raised their heads about six inches off the ground - inquisitively flicking their tongues testing the smells and vibrations in the area. Eventually, one after the other, their instincts led them into the tall grasses - off to a new life. It did not take the mother that long to realise that she was finally free - within seconds after Donald overturned her container she disappeared into the bush.

According to Donald a female python can have anything between 50 and 100 babies. The trauma and stress she had to endure with the capture could have caused the female to have the small batch of 28. Sadly there is no telling how many of the babies will eventually survive.

Zanne de Bruin

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