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Danger Zone: The African Rock Python

When you think about deadly, dangerous snakes, the first thing that might come to your mind is their venom. However, many people are unaware that there are non-venomous snakes that are equally dangerous. One example is the African Rock Python (Python sebae), notorious for its nasty temperament.

The African rock python is the largest snake in Africa. It is also considered to be among the six largest snake in the world together with the Burmese python, Indian python, reticulated python, green anaconda, and amethystine python.  The African rock python has two subspecies namely, the Central African rock python and the South African rock python. The patterns on the scales of the two subspecies can be used to differentiate them. There is a well-defined large blotch in front of the eye of the Central African sub-species, while the South African sub-species has frontal scales broken into 2-7 scales.

The body of the African rock python is thick and heavily built. It is covered with coloured blotches and colour may vary between olive, chestnut, brown, and yellow.  It has a triangular head and curved, sharp teeth. African rock pythons reach an average size of 3.5 meters during adulthood; however, there have been reports of these snakes reaching 4.8 meters to 6 meters. They can weigh between 30 to 55 kilograms, but exceptionally large African rock pythons may weigh up to 90 kilograms.

This large snake can be found all over sub-Saharan Africa. As their names suggest, the Central African rock python is found across central and western Africa while the South African rock python is found on the southern and eastern range. In terms of its habitat, it can live in forests, grasslands, semi-dessert, Savannah, rocky areas. It is also found in edges of lakes, swamps and rivers, or where there is a permanent water source.

African rock pythons prey on a variety of animals. This snake kills its target by constriction. It grips the prey and coils around it tightly until the prey either dies from crushing lack of air, or cardiac arrest. Because the snake has flexible jaws and skin, it can easily eat large animals whole by opening their mouths wide.

It can eat large rodents, warthogs, fruit bats, monkeys, lizards, and even antelopes. It can even prey on other predators such as crocodiles, and cubs/puppies of hyenas, leopards, cheetahs, wild dogs, and jackals.

The African rock python is currently not considered at risk of extinction, however, there are present threats like hunting and loss of habitat that should be monitored and controlled. The African rock python is often hunted for its skin, which is used for a variety of leather goods. It is also hunted for the pet trade.

Keeping rock pythons as pets is one of the primary reasons for human attacks. People keeping them as pets are at risk, especially with their unpredictable nature. There have been several accounts of these rock pythons attacking people and children. While large African rock pythons would have no difficulty swallowing an adult person, accounts of these snakes attacking humans in the wild are said to be exceptionally rare.

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