Herpetologists give python a new lease on life

A large rock python is recovering well under the care of uShaka Sea World’s herpetologists and resident vet after being rescued from a stormwater culvert.

On Friday 11 August 2017, Durban-based herpetologist Nick Evans brought the three-metre-long female southern African rock python (Python natalensis) to the Dangerous Creatures exhibit at the uShaka Village Walk.

Herpetologists Lesley Labuschagne and James Wittstock give Pippa the python an antibacterial warm-water treatment. (Image: uShaka Sea World)

Locals had noticed the snake, later named Pippa by uShaka Sea World staff, lying motionless for nearly a week in a Shongweni stormwater culvert.

“The python had probably sought refuge in the concrete culvert which, unlike the natural holes in which pythons would seek refuge, remained cold throughout the days and nights that followed. This led to a debilitating drop in her body temperature, stopping her from being able to move back into a warmer environment,” said senior herpetologist Lesley Labuschagne.

When the reptile arrived at the rehabilitation facility she was cold, dehydrated and unresponsive. “We immediately placed her in a temperature-controlled environment and administered antibiotics and rehydration fluids. Over the next few days, we were able to gradually increase her body temperature and, as a result, her condition started improving,” Labuschange added.

Over the next three weeks, the herpetologists and animal health team closely monitored Pippa. She soon began moving about on her own, drinking water and digesting small quantities of food.

It is anticipated that uShaka Sea World veterinarian Francois Lampen will give her a clean bill of health in the next few weeks and that she will be handed over to Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife for release in a suitable natural habitat.

Southern African rock pythons are the largest snakes in Africa. They’re non-venomous and reach three to five metres in length. They are legally protected in terms of Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora and are also on South Africa’s list of protected species.

The Shongweni area provides an ideal foraging ground for these magnificent snakes as they feed off rodents, hares, monkeys, birds and small antelope. The main reason for the decline in their numbers is competition with humans for safe spaces. In captivity, pythons have been known to live up to 30 years of age.

“Hopefully she will stay away from stormwater culverts in future,” said Labuschagne.

Update: Sunday 17 September

Pippa died unexpectedly on Sunday 17 September. A postmortem revealed that the snake had died from the effects of a chronic liver condition.

The basic function of the liver is processing and detoxifying the body. While the liver is able to compensate for sporadic malfunctioning this is only sustainable up to a point. In some chronic liver conditions this threshold is crossed and the condition becomes untreatable.

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