Recently, while I was sitting at my desk at home, a ten-foot-long reticulated python fell past the window. I first saw it reaching out from above the eaves of the house in an attempt to get to a nearby champac tree. It overextended itself and slid off the roof, tumbling inelegantly into the tree’s lower branches. A couple of brave squirrels barked from the neighbouring mango tree and a pied fantail ineffectively dive-bombed the snake as it gathered its coils around the tree trunk. Impervious, the python rested for a moment and then slid slowly, silently, into my garden.
My house is located in central Bangkok, a city built on a boggy alluvial plain. Decades of rapid development – tons of concrete and countless skyscrapers – have done nothing to dispel the air and shade of the swamp upon which the city stands, and there is no better symbol of this than the enduring, primordial presence of the python. The municipal fire department is called out more often for snakes than for fires; tens of thousands are captured in the capital each year and, of these, thousands are reticulated pythons (Malayopython reticulatus), the world’s longest snake. Moving mostly unseen through the city drains, this muscular predator feeds on mice, rats, frogs, birds and cats (both strays and pets), and inhabits the city in numbers far greater than anyone cares to imagine.
I grew up in Bangkok and have a live-and-let-live attitude to the ever-present wildlife – from the oversized monitor lizards that stalk the city’s few parks and disused canals to the noisy koel bird with its ear-piercing 3am mating call that would sound more at home deep inside a rainforest