A huge snake was reportedly caught by construction workers in Malaysia a few days ago. The snake has died, the wildlife officials’ report, amid concerns that it might have been mishandled.
The reticulated python (Python reticulatus) was said to measure 7.5 metres long, making it just 17 centimetres shorter than the largest such snake known in captivity.
It also weighed a beefy 250 kilograms, officials said, although those numbers probably still need to be independently verified, says Kenneth Krysko, the herpetology collection manager at the Florida Museum of Natural History.
The big snake was reportedly found last week at a construction site in Paya Terubong on the Malaysian island of Penang. Members of Malaysia’s Civil Defence Force moved the animal and posed for photos and video, in which they can be seen holding the snake, taping its mouth shut, and making a noose around its neck. At one point, one of the workers is seen kicking the snake.
The python was transferred to the country's wildlife officials, who also collected an egg they believe came from the serpent. But on Tuesday the officials pronounced the snake dead.
Shazree Mustapha, a public relations officer at Malaysia’s Civil Defence Force, told reporters the snake “died on her own.”
“Maybe she committed suicide," he said. "Maybe she felt threatened so she killed herself."
But Krysko is highly skeptical of that theory. "A snake wouldn't kill itself," he says. "I don't even know how it would do it."
Krysko says it's unclear if the snake died from being mishandled, "but it is unlikely it would have died in a week if it was left alone in the wild," he says.
"There's no reason to put a noose around its neck," he adds. "You don't want to kick it, and there's no reason to even tape its mouth shut, it's not an alligator. All you have to do is hold on to the back of the head and it's not going to bite you."
With so many workers on the scene stretching the python out, it also would have had no chance to wrap around someone to squeeze them, Krysko notes.
Although large pythons are powerful animals, attacks on people are extremely rare. The snakes mostly try to avoid people in the wild, and the few recorded incidents are usually the result of mishandling pet snakes, says Krysko.
The best thing to do if you encounter a big snake is to leave it alone and call wildlife authorities, he says. In the case of the invasive pythons that are eating their way through the Florida Everglades, people should try to keep an eye on the animal until help arrives so it doesn't disappear into the bush.
Reticulated pythons live in tropical forests throughout Southeast Asia, particularly near water. They have a complex geometric pattern of multiple colours and can live up to about 25 years in captivity. They feed on a range of prey, especially birds and mammals up to large deer.
The reticulated python has been declining in the wild due to hunting for its meat and gall bladders, which are used in traditional medicines. They are also killed by people who fear them.