By BEN KLEIN
Northwestern Pennsylvania is no place for a eight foot albino Burmese python.
Photo submitted to Times Observer
Prada, an eight-foot albino Burmese python, was removed from a Glade Township home in November. The snake was reportedly malnourished and covered in mites, rat bites, and cockroaches.
When Paws Along the River removed Prada from an aquarium in a Glade Township home on Nov. 8, the snake lay severely malnourished, without any water, covered in mites and rat bites in an environment so severely infested with cockroaches that it couldn't even enter the shelter.
"Hundreds and hundreds of roaches," Paws Along the River Director Karen Kolos said. "People are leaving all these animals and then walking out the door, then we get a call to go get them."
On Friday, Dec. 9 , District Magistrate Laura Bauer found Randy Fiscus, owner of the snake, guilty of cruelty to animals, and was ordered to pay $750 in fines and fees, including the cost of restitution and veterinary bills.
Prada is the second snake taken in by Paws Along the River since a four-foot bald python was removed from a abandoned trailer in Pittsfield this spring. The carelessness and unsanitary conditions of the environment are what allow Kolos and Paws Along the River to bring a cruelty conviction in cases like this.
Native to the tropics of Southeast Asia, constrictors can reach up to 20 feet in length and in maturity weigh upwards of 200 pounds, and have been acting as a envasive species in the Florida Everglades.
In 2009, a Burmese python escaped its tank and strangled a Florida couple's two-year old daughter in her crib.
The snakes are only allowed in New York State with a permit.
In Pennsylvania, you need look no further than a pet store, or if you are willing to lay down a couple more bucks, you can readily purchase the snakes online.
Kolos suggested the snake was purchased out of Erie, and a search online shows baby albino Burmese pythons going for $75 and adults for $150.
Acquiring a deadly reptile or an exotic animal which could eventually kill you is easier than ever, and Kolos said people aren't doing their homework.
"They don't understand how much money and times goes into caring for them" and "they don't have the funds or the wherewithal to treat these animals," Kolos said.
The python abandoned in Pittsfield was left alone in a trailer for nearly three weeks with no light and no food, but that didn't stop volunteer Luke Lindsey from taking the snake in and giving him a new home.
Lindsey said he has "kept snakes my entire life," worked in a reptile zoo and even performed venomous extractions from homes of snakes, alligators, "pretty much everything," he said.
Prada weighed roughly 17 pounds when Kolos brought it to the shelter; Lindsey said it should have weighed closer to 30 pounds.
"When they brought it in it was severely dehydrated, it was really thin," he said, and added that it may have been neglected for the past three months.
"He came down at least once a week to make sure he was clean, bathed and ate," Kolos said of Lindsey.
She also contacted volunteer Ryan Holcomb, who provided a larger, cleaner container and cleaned the mites and feces from the snake.
Lindsey said it had a really good temperament when they brought the snake in and "he drank probably for 30 minutes straight, that's how dehydrated he was."
Now, Prada is in good hands Sarah Walstrom of Jamestown, NY, a third year zoo and wildlife biology student at Malone University in Canton, Ohio, who brought Prada into Malone's behavioral research program that works in conjunction with the Everglades National Park.
Prada has joined about 200 other snakes and 30 other Burmese pythons at Malone's serpentarium, where students, led by Dr. Chris Carmichael, study pheromones produced by the snakes, specifically in reproduction, to find out how they locate each other to help stop the population explosion in the Florida Everglades.
"Snakes shed their whole skin about once a month, and we take that shed skin and apply chemicals to it," Walstrom said, adding the chemicals help remove proteins like pheromones that are then purified into a extract. The extract is then swabbed in a trail onto a long sheet of paper and then a adult male Burmese python is placed on the ground and his reaction is observed.
Will Prada be used in these behavioral tests?
Maybe, Walstrom said without a ninternal probe, determining the sex of the snake is nearly impossible.
She can say with confidence that the snake is healthy, and in good hands.
"The snake looks good now, it has a few rodent bites on its skin, but with a few sheddings, that will be completely resolved," she said. "The Humane Society did a very nice job with it."
Prada's rescue was not a typical story at Paws Along the River, where Kolos said they called multiple zoos to take the snake in and "we are facing this stuff in Warren more and more and more."
"I think you need to have a license, or something, if we are going to send out an exotic somewhere to a home, they have to have proper containment, properly sized cages. Even for birds we get, you have to have a cage and cages can cost a lot of money," she said. "And then we run into people who have 50 birds in their house."
To initially set up and provide the proper environment for an exotic pet such a Burmese python requires time and energy.
"The time and energy to do that initially is a lot," Lindsey said, and "snakes are great pets" because they can tolerate handling, and they don't need to be socialized and can be fed once a week.
Lindsey does agree with Kolos to a certain extent, directing his frustration away from consumers to the pet stores that will sell a foot long baby Burmese python to people who think it would be a nice easy pet that "a year later is big enough to potentially kill you."
"That snake isn't even half grown, imagine that thing building up another 100 pounds and another six or seven feet on it," he said.
Like driving a car, Lindsey said owners should have to take training and become certified to keep a snake that has the potential to kill a grown man.
"It's just a shame to see a snake like that," he said of the snake's condition. "He was really calm, just a nice gentle snake."
However, he does caution potential owners to do their homework before purchasing a exotic snake such as Burmese python.
"I wouldn't recommend anybody purchasing any large constricting python or snake without doing the research," he said.