Ammini became the centre of attraction in a nondescript office of the rescue mobile squad of the Forest and Wildlife Department at Chalakudy in Thrissur district. That forest officials had to babysit a six-year-old, almost-three-metre python for nearly two months, was a novel experience for all of them. And P Ravindran, forester, is an excellent raconteur as he narrates the story of how they had to share their office with the python they named Ammini.
It all began a little after dusk on March 17 when the unit received a call about a python near Karuvannur, about 16 km from Thrissur. Immediately, the squad swung into action and brought the huge reptile to their office. The plan was to release it into the nearby forests near Athirappilly. Ammini, a member of Python Molurus, is a large non-venous snake indigenous to the tropics and sub-tropics of India, South Asia and South East Asia. The Indian python is classified as lower risk or near threatened on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Indian pythons are protected under Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972, which makes it a completely protected species. As such the decision was to release the rescued python into the forest the next day.
On March 18, when staffers entered the office, they found the python laying eggs. Then they decided not to disturb her till the eggs, about the size of duck eggs, were hatched.
Rescue watcher Philip Kottanellur, driver Ajith and other staffers in the officers such as VP Prajeesh, KC Lijesh, K Pradeep Kumar, PV Jini and Guruvayoorappan began taking care of the python. One of them went to the market, got her a hen and kept some water in her cage.
However, the python stay coiled in a corner and did not touch the water or the hen. The officers there began reading up all they could do on pythons and their hatching period. Chalakudy Divisional Forest Officer TC Thyagaraj and Range Officer TS Mathew supported their colleagues to take care of the python till the eggs were hatched.
In the meantime, they named the hen Rani. Ravindran recalls that Rani became quite familiar with the almost immobile python. “We kept feed and water for both the animals. For about 45 days, the snake did not even drink water. But on the 46th day, the bowl containing water was overturned and we found her doubled up. All that was left of Rani were a few feathers. The next day, it was back to hatching its eggs. After about 58 days, we could see the eggs cracking and tiny pythons sticking its head out of some of the eggs,” remembers Ravindran.
By the 63rd day, 20 of the eggs had hatched. In a day or two, there were 28 hatchlings and one or two had crawled out of the cage.
“We decided to release them back into the forest, near the river where pythons usually are at home. Ammini and the hatchlings were released at two different places to prevent her from snacking on the snakelets,” explains Ravindran.
He says it was a memorable experience for all the staffers in the office. “As part of the rescue team, we are used to dealing with different kinds of wild animals. But in all my years of service, this is the first time we had to take care of a python hatching her eggs,” says Ravindran.