4/12/98 Daily Telegraph
Strange but true: Cobras save village from jaws of
Paul Sieveking on rumbustious reptiles
THE inhabitants of Saikpurwa, a village in the
northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, have found some
unlikely guardians in a band of deadly cobras. The
snakes, which live and breed in nearby ruins, have
protected them from a series of dangers. The first
incident occurred on Oct 25, when a cobra entered a
house, causing a family of six to run out into the open.
Moments later, the brick house collapsed.
The next day, three wolves approached a baby girl who had
been left alone while her mother worked in the paddy
fields. The predators were frightened off when a cobra
reared up in front of the baby. Witnesses said that the
snake then stood watch over the child until the mother
A few days later, two cobras surprised burglars as they
attempted to force the door of a house in the village and
bit one of them before they escaped. "We are looking
to send a team to study this," said the region's
chief wildlife warden, Ram Lakham Singh. The villagers
plan to erect a temple in honour of the snakes.
A bizarre snake story has come my way from Zimbabwe. A
former game ranger in the National Parks Department is
demanding compensation for being partially swallowed by a
python while on duty 22 years ago.
Stanford Chambe was taking a nap while on patrol in the
McIlwaine National Park just west of Harare in 1976 when
the python gripped him and started to swallow him, head
first. The reptile licked his scalp to make digestion
easier. He now claims that the saliva caused him to lose
all his body hair and to become short-sighted.
A parks department official confirmed the python
incident. However, a medical report said that Mr Chambe
is a victim of alopecia - all-over hair loss - and that
pythons "are not known to produce such
substances" that could cause baldness. Steve
Durrent, the chairman of the Herpetological Society of
Zimbabwe, said that Mr Chambe's claim was nonsense.
Snakes never licked their prey, but they became coated
with saliva as they were being swallowed, he said.
Snakes appearing out of lavatory pans are the stuff of
urban legend, but none the less I have a bulging file
detailing actual examples of this phenomenon.
The latest incident happened on Nov 4 in Jackson Emms, an
insurance broker's office at Reading, Berkshire. Jan
Webster went to the lavatory and saw what looked like a
joke snake hanging over the side of the bowl. She moved
to pick it up, but it hissed and looked at her. It was a
4.5 foot royal python which had emerged via the U-bend.
It had pink around its mouth and on its tail from the
liquid the cleaners had put down the lavatory the night
Staff waited for the snake to settle on the cistern
before shutting the lavatory seat with a broom. It turned
out to belong to Alex Harne, two buildings away. He had
left his pet, Simbi, in a bath of water because she was
shedding her skin. She had slithered through the plumbing
of the adjoining building before dropping three storeys
into the basement lavatory at Jackson Emms.
In July last year, a python in Aberdeen escaped from its
owner, Joss Clark, during a descaling session, appearing
in the lavatory bowl of his neighbour two floors down.
The panic-stricken woman flushed it away, but it was
later retrieved unhurt.
Two weeks later, a drowsy Thor Skule came face-to-face
with a python when he lifted the lavatory seat in his
Copenhagen flat one morning. Firemen were called, but
before they arrived a lavatory was flushed in the
apartment building, sucking the three-foot snake back
into the pipes. Mr Skule's girlfriend, a trainee
zookeeper, managed to grab the exhausted snake when it
resurfaced in a neighbour's lavatory four hours later.
Paul Sieveking is editor of Fortean Times