Snakes have a well-deserved reputation as escape artists and, once at liberty, they are nearly impossible to find. Almost always, the escapee shows up by accident, no matter how hard one searches – even quite large snakes can virtually disappear in relatively small areas (please see photo – the 16 foot long anaconda pictured there “vanished” in about 6 inches of water on the Venezuelan llanos; I took over an hour to find her despite “knowing” where she was!). However, there are a few tricks that can improve your chances of recapturing a lost pet…but first, if I may, a few related stories:
Cobras “Helped” out of Their Exhibit
My most dramatic snake escape/recapture began not due to carelessness but rather via a deliberate act of vandalism. Amazingly, a visitor to the Bronx Zoo’s Reptile House (where I worked as an animal keeper) lifted his son up so that the boy could kick in the glass of the Spitting Cobra Exhibit! This insanity took place on a crowded summer afternoon…when all such incidents seem to occur.
After being alerted by a frantic visitor banging on the service area door, I and my co-workers sprinted to the scene – only to find the now massive crowd surging forward to get a better look! This surprised me, as earlier in the month I happened to be present when an Indian Fruit Bat, or Flying Fox, left its perch in another exhibit and plummeted to the ground, smack in the middle of a huge holiday crowd. The diving bat, whose wings spanned nearly 5 feet, caused a stampede – I actually had to throw myself over a small child in order to prevent her from being crushed (I recovered the bat, more or less in one piece, also).
As I pushed folks back from the shattered exhibit glass, I was confronted by 3 very agitated Red Spitting Cobras (Naja pallida). Not knowing that Spitting Cobras were at large, I had responded without the goggles that are normally worn when working around these most accurate marksman (“spitters” recognize eyes, even on humans, and when disturbed spit venom directly at them with unerring accuracy). Fortunately, by using quick sidewise glances we were able to keep the snakes in sight until goggles appeared on the scene, and they were recaptured without further incident.
An Elusive NYC Python
Another interesting escape, which fortunately also was resolved without anyone being injured, involved a Burmese Python in an apartment building in the Bronx. The former pet escaped it’s cage when about 10 feet in length and roamed the building for years. Increasingly large shed skins were found in different apartments, but the snake remained hidden within the walls, dining on rats and perhaps the occasional cat (one Burmese Python found in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, was in the process of swallowing a cat when discovered), while its fame grew. I was not on the scene when the snake was finally captured, but am told she had added 4-5 feet to her length and looked quite well.
Information on discouraging and trapping free-living snakes is posted on Cornell University’s website.