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News Clippings

4/12/98 Daily Telegraph

Strange but true: Cobras save village from jaws of danger

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 returned.

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 before.

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

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