The subject of giant constrictor attacks upon people always brings out wild claims. While working with Green Anacondas in Venezuela, I tried to track down 2 reports of human predation, but was unable to prove or disprove either. I recall reading several well-authenticated accounts in old issues of Herpetologica, and sadly, have first-hand knowledge of a tragic incident involving a captive Burmese Python in NYC. But a recent article on the Agta people of the Philippines took me very much by surprise – from 1939-1973, 26% of all Agta men, and 2% of the women, had been attacked by Reticulated Pythons!
Living with Giant Pythons
The article, published in a recent issue of The Proceedings of the National Academy of Science of the USA, was co-authored by a prominent herpetologist and a scientist who lived with the Agta people, in a remote region of the Philippines, for 24 years; some impressive photos are included as well (please see abstracts, below).
Carefully-designed interviews established that at least 6 fatalities occurred over a 39 year period. In one tragic case, 2 children were taken by a single snake on the same night. As is true elsewhere, chickens and dogs were also preyed upon near villages. The largest snake encountered by the author was nearly 23 feet long, the 3rd largest of its species to be accurately measured.
Snake Capacity: Examples of Large Meals
The Agta people are small in stature, with adult men averaging 4’6” in height and 97 pounds in weight. This is well within the size range of the prey that has been recorded for large constrictors.
The largest snake meal of which I’m aware is a 130 pound Impala taken by an African Rock Python. A Green Anaconda that I collected for tagging disgorged a 60 pound White-Tailed Deer, which tops anything I’ve witnessed personally (“tops” referring to just about any event, snake-related or otherwise!). Please see Giant Snake Meals.
for details on these and similar observations, including the 139 pounds of food (3 animals) taken by a 25-foot-long Reticulated Python over a period of several days.
People and Pythons: Intertwined Evolution?
The Agta have long hunted pythons as a food source, and of course kill any that threaten people or livestock. Several non-human primates are also known to attack and/or consume snakes, and snakes of various species have killed individuals from at least 27 primate species.
An interesting question is raised by the authors: what, if any, effect has all this had on our evolution? Some researchers claim that primates have a natural aversion to snakes, and that humans have evolved specific snake-spotting abilities (please see article below). Definitely food for thought, considering the size of the Agta people and the frequency with which they must have encountered large pythons over the centuries.
Fluffy the reticulate python image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Adolphus
Retic eating chicken image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Danleo