UC Police Dept. found a 13-foot-2-inch, 85-pound Burmese python left for dead with numerous stab wounds on UCSB’s West Campus last week.
UCPD Corporal Michael Romero discovered the python coiled up in a dirt parking lot on the Devereux Loop on April 24 at approximately 5:50 a.m. while making his final patrol of the night. A mutilated fluffy white rabbit carcass was also found nearby. He called for backup, assuming the python was dead, but when officers approached the animal to remove it, they saw its tail move and realized it was still alive. The officers contacted the Santa Barbara County Animal Control for assistance in moving the large snake to Valley Animal Hospital for treatment. The snake was suffering from severe hypothermia and was semi-comatose when it arrived. It had to be euthanized by hospital staff.
The reptile had been stabbed repeatedly by one or more people, UCPD detective Bill van Nieuwenhuize said. The unidentified snake butchers used a blunt object, a wide-body heavy knife and a smaller knife to attack the python.
“It’s a unique case. It’s the kind of case that I haven’t seen in the 14 years that I have been here,” van Nieuwenhuize said. “Somebody just stabbed and hacked this thing.”
Although UCPD does not know the exact time that the python was attacked, it has determined that it happened between 11:30 p.m. April 23 and 5:50 a.m. April 24. UCPD was dispatched to Devereux Loop in response to a different incident at 11 p.m. on April 23, and officers did not see the python at that time.
It is possible for reptiles to survive for long periods of time with injuries as severe as those inflicted on the python, said Dr. Eric Westheimer, the veterinarian at Valley Animal Hospital who treated it.
“Reptiles are absolutely amazing animals. They could probably survive several days with injuries like this,” he said.
Police speculate that the owner or owners of the python took it out to the parking lot in order to feed it, when something went wrong.
“[What I think is that] they tried to feed the rabbit to the snake,” van Nieuwenhuize said. “These are normally fairly docile snakes, this Burmese python, but when they haven’t been fed in a while and they smell prey, they’ll do a prey strike and if somebody tries to pull that animal or tries to take it away from [the python], it becomes very aggressive.”
Van Nieuwenhuize further speculated that the python, which would have been capable of killing an adult man, bit at least one person.
“There are a number of pry marks on the mouth to indicate it has been locked onto something and they used a tool to pry it loose,” he said. “[The stab wounds are] just so indicative of a really tremendous struggle that ensued.”
Police believe the snake was living with a new owner, who may have acquired it in the last 9 months, and that the snake showed signs that it was not well cared for prior to the stabbing. It had the early stages of belly scale rot, a disease caused when a snake’s cage is too moist or improperly cleaned.
Van Nieuwenhuize said UCPD is not treating his case as a criminal investigation, and he was more concerned with the public health issues because the python was infected with cryptosporidiosis, a disease spread through ingestion of the stool of an infected animal. Symptoms include diarrhea, stomach cramps and a slight fever.
“We really rather would have had somebody call us and said, ‘Man, we just had something really bad happen’ … that would have made it the best of all possible worlds,” van Nieuwenhuize said. “We could have called everybody we needed to call to take care of it and be done with it, but they just panicked and ran.”
A Reptile Warehouse, a local pet store specializing in reptiles, received a Burmese python from the Humane Society about two months ago. Bryan Szal, the owner of the store, said he remembers selling the python he received from the Humane Society to a person living in Isla Vista, but does not know if that python is the same one that was found by UCPD.
He said the animals take a lot more care than many people realize and that he takes extra precautions so that prospective buyers know how much care is needed.
“I don’t sell animals like that to the impulsive buyer,” Szal said.
Anyone with information about what happened to the Burmese python is asked to call van Nieuwenhuize at (805) 893-8477.