Big Burmese python getting adopted by the National Zoo.
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BIG Burmese python

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I ran the Charm City Reptile and Amphibian Rescue for 14 years (no longer in operation). Here is a story about a big Burmese python that was taken in and rehomed.

One of the local Animal Control facilities called me about a large Burmese python that was abandoned in a townhouse. The owner had apparently spoken to the National Zoo about taking it, but before the negotiations were finished (giving an animal to the zoo is very rare, and takes a lot of paperwork and time) the person was evicted. They moved out, but left a caiman, about 5 feet long and a 15 foot Burmese python. We get offered 15 foot Burmese pythons all the time, but when they get here, they usually end up being about 8 feet long. Not this time!

Big Debbie, as I called the python, was brought to me as I quickly set up an enclosure for her. My friend happened to be working in the area and could transport the animal to me. It arrived stuffed in a huge plastic trashcan with big air holes drilled into it. Furthermore, I had never dealt with a snake of that humongous size!

Heather, one of the volunteers, came over and we quickly made a lid to fit on a large cattle tank that would house the snake. I had a 2x4s across each edge with about a zillion weights on each one and duct taped the crap out of it! I didn’t want that thing getting loose and killing me and my dog. In later years, we had some very nice large cages with locks on them. At that time though, we had to make do with what was available.

A friend, who is a snake breeder, had some frozen rabbits and gave me some to feed the new rescue. I was told that the python had not been fed in several months. That is not so horrible as it sounds. Large snakes eat very large prey and don’t have to eat as often as smaller snakes. She seemed to be a fairly good weight. But still, I was nervous as Hell about feeding her. The first thirty seconds when dealing with a snake are dangerous because of their feeding response. If this snake struck at me, well, it would pack a punch.

I thawed two rabbits in the basement. I knew Big Debbie had an excellent sense of smell and could tell dinner was on the way. She didn’t seem jumpy or excited. The python was still getting used to the new enclosure and exploring it with a flickering tongue. In other words, she was curious.

Mild-mannered Ajax, a retired racing greyhound.
Ajax, the retired racing greyhound, was normally very sweet and mild-mannered.

My greyhound, who was super mellow, was lying on his bed in the den when I walked through carrying the rabbits. I didn’t even think about the fact that he was trained with rabbits at the racetrack years before I ever knew him. Ajax leaped up in the air trying to grab the rabbits from me. Here I was worried about the snake, and it was my dog who was attacking! He didn’t really attack, it just startled me because he was so mild-mannered. It was shocking to see him act this way. I quickly sent him out to the backyard.

After taking a deep breath, I began removing the weights and the massive amount of duct tape. With grabbers I picked up the first rabbit. I opened the cage as little as I could and squeezed the rabbit in. I jiggled the rabbit as carefully as I could, not wanting to drop it. Eventually, the snake eased over to the rabbit. I was worried that if it was fed live food, it might not be interested in frozen-thawed. I jiggled a little more. The snake came over a little closer. I was trying to anticipate that lunge snakes do. It can scare even the most seasoned snake handler. It is quite intense when the snake is over 50 pounds, like Big Debbie.

Workers at the National Zoo put Big Debbie in a quarantine cage.
Workers in the reptile department at the National Zoo put Big Debbie in a quarantine cage.

She slid casually over the rabbit, gave it a good sniff and gently grabbed it from the tongs just as tame as you’d like. Good girl! I tossed the second rabbit in the cage while the snake chowed down on the first one. Who would have thought my sweet and gentle greyhound would be the animal to fear that day?

Subsequently, I let Ajax back in the house after I got all the tape re-attached and the wood and weights back on the enclosure. He sniffed the outside of the cage and looked at me as if to accuse me of stealing his toys from him. I guess in a way, I did.

Big Debbie was eventually adopted by the National Zoo in Washington, DC.

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Read more by Holli Friedland.

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