A young fella of about 19 came into the surgery in Kildare on saturday morning carrying a large open-necked and heavy-looking sack.what did the sack contain? I was expecting the common story of the family pet which had died overnight, now brought to me for cremation. As I ushered him into the consulting room with a greeting "come in, come in, what have you got in the bag?"I got a surprise. Without reply the young fella,now grinning broadly as I warily stepped back, emptied a coiled, surly, growling,three mtr and ten kg python onto the floor.
Even diseased or dull, the supple power, luscent pattern and very mystery of a rare serpent in the banal setting of a domestic Vet Clinic elicited a sharp intake of breath.
I thumbed through Kipling's "Jungle Book" over the weekend.Our python patient promptd me to remind myself of Kaa the Rock Python, a deep character of dark jungle mystery from one of my childhood favourite writings. The story of Mowgli the Man-Cub reared by wolves and mentored by Bagheera the Panther and Baloo the Bear.The chapter on Mowgli's snatched kidnapping by the Bandar-Log or Monkey people and rescue by Kaa, an awesome 30ft Rock Python captivated me again."And they the Bandar-Log fear Kaa the Rock Snake. He can climb as well as they can. The whisper of his name makes their wicked tails turn cold.Let us go to Kaa".
"They found him stretched on a warm ledge in the afternoon sun admiring his beautiful new coat,for he had been in retirement these last ten days changing his skin and now he was very splendid- darting his big blunt-nosed head along the ground, and twisting the thirty feet of his body into fantastic knots and curves and licking his lips as he thought of the dinner to come."He has not eaten" said Baloo as soon as he saw the beautifully mottled brown and yellow jacket" Be careful Bagheera!".
Reading parts of Kipling now as a forty year old I picked out social commentary and satire that was lost on me as a ten year old. "Listen man-cub" said the bear " I have taught thee all the law of the jungle for all the peoples except the Monkey-Folk who live in the trees.They have no law. They are outcaste. They have no speech of their own but use the stolen words which they overhear when they listen, and peep, and wait up in the branches.Their way is not our way. They boast and chatter and pretend that they are a great people about to do great affairs in the jungle, but the falling of a nut turns their minds to laughter and all is forgotten".This could be a commentary on our modern papparazzi or the tabloid media and those who inhabit its world.
There are also echoes of Victorian morality in Kipling which a ten year old boy might assimilate. Kaa the great aged Python assisted Mowgli's escape from the monkeys and afterwards surveyed the small boy."Have a care manling that I do not mistake thee for a monkey some twilight when I have newly changed my coat"." We be of one blood, thou and I"Mowgli answered."My kill shall be thy kill if ever thou art hungry, O Kaa".The Python dropped his head lightly for a minute "A brave heart and a courteous tongue. They shall carry thee far through the jungle, manling".True today as ever;even jungles have a code of ethics.
The attraction of owning an exotic pet such as Kaa the powerful python is hard for the faint-hearted to understand. But the challenge of caring for and gaining the trust of a complex serpent or reptile has its own rewards for some. My Python visitor had severe fungal pneumonia which I was able to treat with oral liquid antibiotic medication. He had lost weight, lost his lustre and a caseous scum across nose and eyes indicated severe debilitation.I was able to sherlock holmes my way to tracing the source of this disease to inhalation of mold grown on straw, an inappropriate bedding for a snake in a humid tank.
The snake hadnt eaten in a month. "What does he normally eat?" I asked his young owner. "Rats, the biggest whole ones you can buy frozen and defrost!" replied the young fella in gleeful Dublinese.I suspect a more gothic fascination with serpentine habits may motivate some exotic pet owners. To give him his dues though, he was under no illusions about his snake's potency and expertly restrained the python with extreme care as I gave the first antibiotic dose.
Anthropomorphism is a phenomenon we see in pet owners all the time.It means the attribution of human motivation and behaviour to animals.In fairness to this Python owner he was in no way anthropomorphic about his snake.But apparently thousands of owners are killed every year by their own exotic pets. Trust is their fatal weakness. Mowgli too was guilty of anthropomorphism as he initially was attracted by the monkey-people who play all day. Later however he cried bitterly as he realized their treachery "All that Baloo has said about the Bandar-Log is true. They have no law, no hunting call, no leaders- nothing but foolish words and little pickish thieving hands. If I am starved or killed here, it will be all my own fault".Kipling, the Victorian moralist now sounding like a 21st century ecologist.
One of those urban myths of a veterinary nature which I heard once at a Vet's conference goes like this- a python owner in the states had a snake for years and it grew to twentysomething feet long, grew to trust its owner and she it.The snake spent long periods of time out of its tank until the owner eventually let the snake pretty much have the run of the house and go in or out of its tank when it wished. Anyway by the by,she would wake up in the morning and find the snake on her bed which was not the least disconcerting for her. Instead, as a person living alone she found it strangely comforting. One morning she found the snake lying alongside her, cheek to jowl in the bed and happened to tell her Vet this tale of snakely companionship.
The Vet was luckily experienced in the ways of the footless hunter. He spoke with sharp and sudden urgency" Get that Python out of your house and into care immediately. Do not enter your home to get that snake on your own!".Kaa the Python had coldly reasoned that the time had come.He had been measuring up his owner and biding his time, sizing her up to swallow her whole.We be of one blood you and I.But trust is a weakness!