Phytons in the Library
We were still reading our ebook readers on bed when we heard the shriek of a chicken from the library. We looked at each other and uttered, “Snake!” And we leaped from the bed. Grabbing the torch hanging on the doorpost, I opened the front door slowly. It was dark outside. Except for the faint sound of the waves against the shore, nothing I heard on the terrace and, under the rays of my torch, nothing moving I saw around the DoLittle—our learning center for local children and tourist guides. I stepped down the ladder, but Meidy, as I had expected, stayed on the porch; she still hasn’t been able to overcome her snake phobia.
The DoLittle overlooks the bay and is only six meters on the right side of our house. Keeping one-meter distance from its front wall, I thoroughly waved my torched around the building’s floor and ceiling. Neither chicken nor snake was seen. There had been a white rooster perching on the ceiling crossbar at dusk; I searched on the grassy yard but didn’t see it either there. I peeped through the front glass windows but saw none of them inside.
I walked slowly to the side of the library but halted at the corner. There it was! My heart was beating fast. Just a few centimeters from the corner post, a dark cylinder-like thing lay in the space under the woven bamboo wall. I moved closer and, under the flashlight, I could see the net pattern of its shiny surface. The cylinder was as big as my calf, at least 10 cm in diameter. I stepped backward before yelling, “Phyton!”
“Where, where?” Meidy shouted from the terrace.
“Inside the library.”
“Are you sure?”
“You can see by yourself.” It took her a minute or two before stepping down the ladder and stood behind me.
“Where is it?” I pointed at the snake with the torch. “Jeez! it is big!” she shouted, turned around and ran back to the terrace. And I knew what she would say. “Kill it!” There it is.
“I will not kill it,” I said. “It is an endangered species, a big and beautiful one.”
“Yeaah, but it will eat all our chicken if you don’t kill it.” We had this conversation before when two of our hens were eaten by a phyton last year; and it could be the same snake in front of me now, but now much bigger.
Meidy repeated her command but I said nothing. How to catch it alive? It must be longer than two meters and therefore too dangerous to catch by myself and there was no hope to get help from Meidy. I went to the other side of our house to look for a wooden stick branching at one end. Luckily, I found one and, with a machete, cut the branches fit for grasping the neck of the snake.
“What are you going to do?”
“Are you kidding me?”
I didn’t reply. “Hold this stick. I will go to Sera Beach asking tourists to help me catch the snake.”
“Don’t be long.”
I climbed up the narrow path on the hill of the other side of our house; the path levels off at around 25 meter up and continues along the slope facing the ocean. I looked at the sky, some stars twinkling through the coconut leaves. Further about 70 meters, I walked down the concrete steps.
It was dinner time at the Sera Beach Cottages; all tourists were at the restaurant, the biggest building at the opposite of the bay.
“Are you feeling better?” I asked the Spanish tourist whom I had treated for ear infection three days ago.
“Yes,” he replied, “but it is still painful.”
“Have you taken the medicine I gave you?” He nodded and talked more about his medical problem, but I cut it short because I had to talk to all of them immediately.
“Any volunteer to help me catch a snake?”
“Snake?” They chorused.
“At my home.”
“Your home?” Another chorus. They must think it would have been in the forest where six of them had been this morning.
“Yes, about two meters long.” Everybody got up and some headed to their bungalows for torch and, I was sure, mobile phone or camera.
I was still walking down the cliff when I heard Meidy say, “Why did take you so long?”
Ignoring her remark, I asked, “Is it still there?”
“I don’t know.” Of course, she didn’t know because she had stayed inside the bedroom since I had left. I passed in front of the terrace heading the library. The snake was still coiling at the same spot. Thanks God!
Led by Bram, the dive master of Sera’s, the tourist group came down the hill. “Where is it, Bu?” Bram asked Meidy when he passed the terrace and she pointed the location.
“Don’t disturb it, Bram,” I said. “I will fetch a bag.” In the Pumilus, our second guest hut behind the DoLittle, I pulled two big plastic bags for copra from the bed, hoping they were big enough for the snake.
As I came back, the tourists had surrounded the snake at a short distance, murmuring astonishment in various languages. But one girl was behind the group afar—later Meidy told me cheerfully that the girl suffers from the same disorder as hers: snake phobia.
“Anybody volunteer to grab the head?” All were staring mute at me. As none of them replied, I looked at Bram, “Bram?”
“With a stick, I dare.” Well, that was not enough. Somebody must hold the head firmly before another grabbing its tail and he must lift the head and put it in the bag. Though not venomous, the python’s bite as big as of this one could be damaging—we had just found the carcass of our chicken on the floor. But the most dangerous is its second mode of attack; python kills by tightening their coils so that their victim cannot breathe.
I had caught a snake head before, but it was only 60 centimeters in length and one finger in diameter. I believed this one was no less than two meters and a calf size in diameter. “OK, I will grab the head,” I said. “Anybody dares to grab the tail?”
A few seconds passed before someone said, “I will do it.” She was a girl and obviously braver than the three male tourists.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, I held snakes before.” And I gave Natasha, a German, a pair of gloves and Bram the snake stick.
I prodded the snake with another stick trying to fish out its head under the wall. It moved a little but still kept its head and tail inside the library. “I will go into the library to grab its head. Bram, come with me. Natasha, grab the tail if it comes out.”
Gingerly we entered the library and found the snake coiling behind the coconut stump at the northwest corner. “Gave me the stick, please” I said to Bram once I spotted the head. The snake wriggled ferociously when I pressed its back head between the throngs of the stick.
“The tail is here!” shouted Natasha outside.
“Grab it!” I yelled, “and pull!” There was a turmoil, people screaming. The snake was jerking hard now trying to free its head and seemed to succeed. Its head moved forward under the fork. “Pull it more!”
“It is hard. It is strong!” And I lifted the stick because it was not on the head anymore. A few moment later a roaring choir heard outside. The snake bent its head under the wall and tried to snatch Natasha’s hand grabbing on its tail. Impressively, she didn’t release it; someone poked the head with a stick and it pulled in the tail. The tail, however, was too slippery for Natasha to hold any longer. The snake was slid inside.
As we lost its sight, people panicked screaming. I ran outside and saw the snake slithering on the grass. People jumped backward yelling:
“It . . . it’s huge!” Yes, indeed, it was a huge python and terrified everybody. But on the other hand, it was also scared by the crowd and decided to return to the library. The phyton tried to climb the wall but fell back on the floor because the woven bamboo wall is too slippery. Then I saw it slither underneath and disappeared inside the storeroom behind the library. I ran to the back of storeroom blocking its escape from the wall; had it succeeded, catching it would have been very difficult because the grassy yard is large and has many coconut trees that are easily climbed by the snake.
While prodding my stick along the floor under the wall, I heard somebody scream, “Here, here!”
“Where?” I shouted.
“In the open room.” The study room. I circled the DoLittle and stepped into the study room while flashing around the floor. The snake was lying at the base of the southeast coconut stump, one meter high. Slowly and carefully, I approached it. As I was trying to locate the head, but it stopped moving. It took me for a while to identify the head. It was much smaller than the body, bright yellow with a dark thin stripe behind its eye.
Phyton stared at me making me nervous. I stopped moving closer. “Bram, come here! Fork its head!”
Bram was also nervous but he tiptoed forward and lifted the stick slowly and then forked the snake head fast. The snake wiggled its whole body vigorously. I knelt and looked at the head closer. Albeit scary, the head was beautiful; a dark fluid running down behind its eye. Blood? “It is bleeding, Bram. Poor buddy!”
I hesitated to grab the head. “Anybody see its tail?” I yelled to the people behind the back wall.
“No. It is inside.” Someone answered. But I didn’t see it either.
“I need someone to find it here!” Then I saw the head slithering under the fork. “Bram, it is fleeing!” We both jump backward and the snake passed us heading the store room. “To the storeroom, Bram!”
We were searching the storeroom when someone behind the back wall shouted, “I see its tail!”
“Don’t grab until I hold its head!” We saw its head under the back corner shelf. “Could you fork it, Bram?” He nodded.
“Gotcha!” he exclaimed.
“Grab the tail!” I shouted.
“I got it!” A girl’s voice. I waited a few seconds before kneeling next to the head and a few more seconds, maybe a minute, on looking at the head and thinking how to grab it safely. From the back or front of the fork? Slowly I held the neck top with my right hand and slid my fingers underneath and forward the head little by little. When I felt the lower jaw in my grip, I asked Bram to lift the stick.
The snake wriggled fiercely and I held it tighter with two hands. “Bram, drop the stick and hold the body!” Bram did so but other part of the body still hit the feet of the shelf. “I need one more person to hold the body here!” A tourist came in and crouched down to help Bram and me securing the snake. I could feel the powerful shake of the snake in my hands. “Grip tightly as far as the tail!”
“The tail was still outside, Doc,” Bram said. Having seen both my team members done well, I shouted, “Release the tail,” to the girl grabbing the tail behind the wall. And the tourist slid his grip backward to take over the tip of the tail. “Take it outside now. Watch out your head. Sharp tools hanging above.”
I led the squad leaving the storeroom. The snake was bending behind me, “Slow down!” Outside, gripping the head tightly and passing the back wall of the storeroom, I laid the head on the grass. Bram and the tourist stretched the rest of the body on the grass parallel the storeroom. The tip of the tail passed the wall between the library and storeroom. As the width of the storeroom is 3 meters, the snake must be longer than 3 meters. The largest wild snake I have ever seen . . . and caught!
I asked someone to pass me the bags I had prepared before and slid my right hand inside it; slowly from outside the bag, locating the head, my left hand took over. I pulled out my right hand quickly and grabbed the head with both hands. wishing my luck that it was really the head I was gripping—the snake was still able to bite through the bag, I was sure.
“Push in the body!” Not easy because it was big and long and wriggling violently. From outside the bag, I tried to push in the body forward little by little with one hand—the other securing the head. Not so much progress and at risk of freeing the head.
“We have to roll it first,” said Bram and, with the help from the tourist, started doing it. Now I could see how big it was; the size of the roll was about a motorbike tire. Bram pushed it into the bag but it was difficult because of its bulkiness and heaviness. In the meantime, Meidy came with a rattan-framed fishnet.
“Double the bag!” said she.
“No need.” But she insisted on my doing so by dropping the net beside me. I pushed it away.
“Pull up the bag!” I said. We lifted the bag and Bram dropped the roll into the bag and twisted its opening. “Get a rope from the top of genset in the storeroom!” And somebody ran into the storeroom, picked a short piece of rope, and Bram tightened the bag with it.
As I worried the snake would tear the bag with its bite, I looked something for outer cover. In the gazebo at the corner of the west beach, I found a big canvas pillow. I brought it to the scene and took the inner styrofoam bag out. Bram lifted and pushed the snake bag into the pillow bag. “How heavy is it?” A tourist asked Bram.
“About 7 kg,”
I sat on the grass relaxing my muscles but laboring my mind on the best place I could keep the snake securely for the night. “Let’s carry it to the boat!” The water was calf-high deep at the Poseidon. Bram dropped the bag on board but he noticed a hole on the bag and closed it with the rope of the hull. The bag was fastened to the hull on erect position.
“What are you going to do with it?” Natasha, the brave German girl, asked me from behind.
I turned around. “I will release it in the forest tomorrow morning. Interested to help me out?”
“I am going to do diving tomorrow morning.”
“I can wait till afternoon.”
A few minutes later Bram led the tourist group going back to the Sera Beach Cottages. I was still able to hear their chats even after they had disappeared from the hill above our house.
The first thing I did on waking up the following morning was checking the snake. The tide was around the knee at the Poseidon. I looked inside the boat thoroughly before bending my back under the thatched roof. No snake on the floor; the bag looked intact; the rope still good. Gingerly, I touched the bag. No movement. I pressed it a little and felt something hard but still nothing moving. I held the neck of the bag and shook and stared to the bag. Negative. OK, it might be exhausted. At least it was still there.
After lunch I checked it again. I shook the bag harder, even pressed the snake body with my hands, but it didn’t stir. Was it dead? I unfastened the rope, unzipped the pillowcase and cautiously looked inside. The rope still tightened the inner bag well and there was no hole seen on it. I looked at the horizon for a while thinking what to do. It was a gigantic snake, dangerous; I didn’t want it to escape and live around our home. But it seemed have died and I wanted to take the picture of it while it was still in good shape.
I tied back the bag to the hull and walked home fetching a big plastic box—we used it for storing the T-shirts for sale—and putting it on the stern of Poseidon. For precaution, I laid the opened lid at the end of the stern within an easy reach. Then I picked up the snake bag from the mid-part of the boat. It was heavy, must be more than 7 kg, Bram’s estimation, maybe 10 kg. Putting it between the box and the lid, I once more squeezed the snake on multiple spots very cautiously hoping not pressing on the head. No movement felt. OK, ready!
Having released the knot—but keeping the rope on the neck of the bag—I opened the bag little by little watching for any motion inside. Negative. I peeped into the bag: the coiling python was still. I didn’t dare to open the bag wider and put my face at the mouth of the bag; instead, I slipped my right hand under the bottom of the bag while keeping my left hand at the neck of the bag and turned it upside down into the box. The snake thumped the base of the box after I shook the bag a few times. I pulled the bag out slowly but then threw it fast to the beach. “My God, it is moving!” With lightning speed I grabbed the lid and closed the box and lifted the side locks. I breathed deeply while securing the locks with hands; my heart was beating hard furiously.
Through the transparent plastic wall, I could see the python raise its head. The thin wall and the loose locks worried me. “It is still alive!” I shouted to Meidy on the terrace.
“I saw it,” she replied. “What are you going to do?”
“Bring me rope from the storeroom!” She found the rope but was reluctant to bring it to the boat. “Come on! It is in the box.” She stopped two meters from me and threw the rope. It landed on the stern tip out of my reach. I left the box and quickly grabbed the rope and tied the box around with it. Well, it seemed secured enough.
The snake looked healthy though. As the wall is rather milky in color, I could not see the eyes clearly. I put the box in the middle of the boat and later tightened it to the hull because there was a possibility, when the sea is rough, the water splash might fill the boat, float box and turn it over. The water would enter the box over the loosen and, I am sure, the panic-stricken snake would break the box.
Natasha didn’t come in the afternoon. I decided to keep the snake for another night because I didn’t think I could take it to the forest by myself—too heavy and Meidy would not come helping me. Luckily, the sea was calm the whole night and the snake looked fine in the following morning. Natasha and her travel mate Diane showed up later and agreed to come back after lunch.
Around three o’clock the girls, accompanied by Adi, the new staff of Sera Beach Cottages, came. It was a clear day and the hike of the back hill was not difficult because I had cleared the path two weeks before and there hadn’t been any rain for two days. The box was carried by two persons alternately. At the hilltop, we turned left taking the ridge trail—I don’t walk this trail often but luckily the path was still good relatively. The trek is rather difficult because the path now is thin and sloping.
We walked for half an hour before arriving in a small clearing spot where a big tree had fell four years ago. “We are releasing it here,” I said. There is a huge tree at the opposite margin of the clearing, an ideal new home for the phyton. But I am not sure it is a good idea to free it there because I had seen macaques on the tree twice. I had no better place for its home, however, because I didn’t want to release it in the Bird valley where I work or pass regularly—the snake would recognize the man who had strangled its neck and might take revenge.
I searched an ideal spot for the box; it should be well-illuminated because I wanted to take video or photographs of the snake leaving the box. The fallen stump where it branched seemed good enough. Having laid the box on the stump triangle, I went to my bag I had left at distance for picking my mobile phone. The box fell off. I ran and repositioned it quickly. Fuuh, the lid was not open luckily.
I unknotted the rope and threw it to the place near my dry bag. “Ready with your camera?” Both girls raised their thumbs but kept looking intently at the box. I pushed the side locks and but pressed tighter the lid. Looking over my shoulder to make sure the path behind me was clear, I lifted the lid and threw it near the rope and quickly walked backward about three meters.
For a couple minutes all of us stared at the box. The snake didn’t move at all. I took out my mobile phone and turned on the camera application and tiptoed toward the box. The snake was coiling peacefully but I didn’t dare put my face on top of the open box. Instead, I shot my camera blindly into the box and viewed the images. The head was clear, on the left side of the box.
Natasha took some good shots from close distance, but Diane got nothing worthy with her sophisticated came. She was too scared to approach the snake and keeping distance more than five meters from the box on left perimeter. She pointed her wrist signaling her impatience to me. Obviously, she lacks of the character of a nature photography—the patience of waiting for the right moment to shoot.
Thinking that the box might fall off when the snake climbed its wall—in addition to the pressure from Diane—I walked to box and bent my back down a little at reaching distance. No movement seen in the box. I extended my arms to hold the box by its sides. The box had been a few centimeters up when I dropped it back abruptly; at the same time Natasha screamed. The snake almost snatched my face. What stupid I was!
“OK. I have to find a safe way to move the box.” A fork stick would do it. I pushed the box with the stick to the floor. We could see the yellow whitish belly of the snake on top but for a while it didn’t move. “It’s moving!” Natasha exclaimed. “It going to the big tree.” It slithered fast under the box and disappeared.
“It is going into the hole under the tree.” Andy said and moved toward the hole but didn’t see it. The hole seemed big enough for hiding the phyton. I thought it would be happy there.
Happy snake, happy ending, but I am not sure I have done something good for the nature. The snake will kill animals, including macaques, cuscuses, even babirusas, for food. The problem is only around 50 individuals of macaques and babirusas are left on Malenge Island—it must be less for the cuscus. But the phyton longer than three meters must be no more than 10 individuals left. Let’s the nature take the its own course.
Three weeks later, I did it again. This time even a much bigger phyton that had been caught by a local man at the Sandy Bay Resort. A Swiss tourist—his name is Christope Phyton—helped me weigh the phyton; it was 18 kg! He felt good at saving his ancestor.