Over the last weekend, I conducted an ecology workshop for some young students from Delhi at Rajaji National Park in Uttarakhand. Most of the training sessions were field trips involving long walks into the National Park, observing the natural world, and attempting to peek into some of nature’s hidden sights. We had local guides with us, who were familiar with the tracks and signs of the forest.
In this season, many of the streams and rivulets (called raus by the locals) that criss-cross the forest at Rajaji dry up. These raus are great places to spot spoors and tracks. As we walked through the forests, they pointed out pug marks of leopards and tigers, and hoof prints of sambhar and spotted deer.
Midway through our morning walk, we came across a six-inch wide track on the sand banks of a dry stream bed. The track began at one end of the dry riverbed and traversed to the other side. Our local guide informed us that the tracks were those of a python! We were amazed! The track looked as though a motorcycle with a very wide wheel had crossed the stream! One of the students pointed out that the python’s tracks were rather straight, and not in an S-shape, as one would expect of a snake. The main reason for this is that the python is a large, heavy snake, and it moves slowly, and rather straight.
Our guide informed us that the python’s tracks were quite fresh, and it could possibly have passed by just recently. He added that as it was cold (and because snakes are cold-blooded), the pythons often come out onto the stream banks to bask in the sun. We looked around for the snake, but the python had already passed us by.
India is home to three species of python. This python is called the Burmese python (Python bivittatus), while its cousin in the rest of India is the rock python (Python molurus). Pythons are amongst the heaviest snakes in India.
Coincidentally, just this morning someone sent me an email with the headline “Python eats a person alive, who was drunk and lying beside the liquor shop in Kerala”. The headline also showed the photograph of a python having swallowed a large mammal. What nonsense! The image was correct but the headline is a fake! Pythons don’t eat people! Pythons hunt creatures, and kill their prey by wrapping their coils around them, and asphyxiating them. Once their prey is dead, they swallow it whole and digest it. The process of digestion can take days, during which period the python is largely immobile and hence vulnerable. I wonder why these wonderful creatures are being slandered so.
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