Rangers in the rainforest are the unsung heroes of conservation. They are on the front lines of conservation; policing the Cardamom Mountains, one of the last unfragmented rainforests in Southeast Asia.

Working at the sharp edge of environmental crime is a tough job, and at times a dangerous one. Rangers can find themselves staring down the barrel of a gun during raids.

Interactions with people they meet on patrol can be tense. 

Call of duty

One day, a local village chief from Kampong Seila district called the rangers for help. His problem? A newcomer to the village was becoming a nuisance: a Burmese python. 

The Thmor Rung Patrol Unit answered the call. The rangers scrambled and arrived at the village to intercept the snake. It had slithered its way into a villager’s house and was causing some alarm amongst the neighbors. 

When the rangers saw the python, they quickly understood why- this was no ordinary snake – it was 6 meters long and weighed 80kg! 

Record-breaking snake

Burmese pythons are one of a handful of Giant python species, which are known to grow up to several meters long. But this specimen was the largest that anyone in the area had ever seen! What’s more, according to one ranger, “its bulging sides suggest it has recently eaten.” 

Studies show that some snake species may become less active after a big meal, just like people after an all you can eat buffet! Nevertheless, the rangers approached the snake with caution, careful not to make any sudden movements which could indicate a threat. Using their specialist training, they covered the snake’s head with a rice sack and proceeded to move the python away from the houses. 

The record-breaking snake took five men to carry it out of the village and down to the nearest stream where it was released safely.

A lucky escape – for the snake?

The villagers expressed their gratitude to the rangers for lending a hand in removing the snake.  The python in question was extraordinary for its size but calls to the ranger team about pythons are nothing out of the ordinary. In fact, rangers teams have answered dozens of such calls and removed 22 pythons this year alone. 

Perhaps the surprising thing is that villagers call the rangers at all. After all, the areas that rangers patrol are full of snares; walls of death set for the exact purpose of trapping animals, including for food. And it’s not every day that communities in the Cardamoms turn down the opportunity to feed on 80kg of meat! 

Saved by a story

But behind these calls are significant cultural beliefs and folklore traditions which prevent pythons from becoming the villagers’ next meal! 

Folklore in Cambodia reveres snakes. In fact, the origin story of Cambodia is intricately linked with snakes, or “naga.” Legend has it that the land of Cambodia was revealed by Sdech Neak, the king of the naga world. Upon seeing his daughter, Neang Neak fall in love with the Indian prince Preah Thong, the king absorbed the water from the surrounding ocean, to reveal the land of Cambodia. There, the happy couple began to build the kingdom of Cambodia. To this day, Cambodians say that they are “Born of the Naga” and snakes, particularly pythons, continue to be revered. Other snake species are looked upon as food but this folklore protects pythons from persecution.

Elsewhere in their range, however, Burmese pythons are not so lucky. Giant python species, including reticulated pythons are threatened for the leather market, where their distinctively patterned skins become anything from handbags to drum skins. They are also targeted for the pet trade. Elsewhere, especially in China, they are targeted for folk medicine and food, though thankfully not in Cambodia.

To support the work of our rangers in protecting the Cardamoms, an essential refuge for wildlife including Burmese pythons, please consider making a donation to the Rainforest & Wildlife Habitat Protection fund here.

If you are interested to know more about how the snake came to be in the villager’s house, and what they eat read on…

More about Burmese pythons

Are Burmese pythons a threat to humans?

Rarely do pythons present a threat to humans. A good thing too because their fatal technique would mean a slow death for anyone caught in its coils. Burmese pythons are constrictors, meaning they wrap their body around their prey and squeeze the life out of them!

OK… but how did the snake get into the villager’s house?

Burmese pythons are generalists when it comes to habitat: they are found in wetlands, including Cambodia’s great Tonle Sap lake, and forested areas, including rainforests, like the Cardamoms. The reason for their sliding on into houses can be explained by their diet: they prey on anything from small to medium birds and mammals, down to mice and rats. The promise of food draws these rats and mice to human settlements, where they are hunted down- and squeezed- by pythons! 

Sources

  • Siers, S. R., Yackel Adams, A. A., & Reed, R. N. (2018). Behavioral differences following ingestion of large meals and consequences for management of a harmful invasive snake: A field experiment. Ecology and evolution, 8(20), 10075–10093. https://doi.org/10.1002/ece3.4480

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