Hatching at a length of 2 ft and growing in excess of 20 ft (6 meters) the African rock python is Africa’s largest snake and one of the five largest snakes on the planet. It is up there in size with the green anaconda, the reticulated python, the Burmese python and the amethystine python or giant scrub python—Australia’s largest snake. In fact, it is only shorter in length than the reticulated python. Not only is it big, but some, including professional herpetologists, consider it the most vicious snake in the world. The hatchlings tend to constrict small prey and as they grow, they feed on animals as large as adult antelope and crocodiles.
African rock pythons have also, unfortunately, been implicated in the deaths of people, albeit very rarely. In recent years, captive African rock pythons have killed people, including one that escaped from a pet store. They do not make good pets, to say the least. The rock python is also one of the very few snakes known to to guard and protect its offspring and they do it passionately and with conviction.
There are two subspecies of African rock pythons. The smaller of the two are found in our neck of the woods in southern Africa. They tend to be associated with riparian environments—near bodies of water. With that said, they can be found in a diversity of habitats from forest to savannah.
The snake in the photo was killed by a leopard on our property. These pythons are not endangered, but their future is threatened by their collection for the pet trade, their skins, which are still highly sought after, and in some cases because they are hunted for food. In other instances their populations are threatened by disturbances to habitat. These snakes are also frequently killed by people because they are so feared by man. With that said, rock pythons rarely kill people, but their formidable reputation precedes them.
At Zikomo Safari, we respect the rock python and give them their space. The wild snakes stay away from people, but we certainly welcome our guests to photograph them if they are fortunate enough to see one of these most impressive of Africa’s large reptilians in nature.
Dr. Jordan Schaul is a board member of NWCF and a former contributor to National Geographic’s editorial news publication News Watch:http://voices.nationalgeographic.com/author/jschaul/