- The Washington Times - Monday, November 25, 2002

JOHANNESBURG A 20-foot-long African rock python swallowed a 10-year-old boy near Durban, the first recorded "man-eating" incident for its species, reports said.
Other children said they hid up mango trees near the township of Lamontville for three hours, too terrified to flee, as the snake trapped the boy and squeezed the life out of him before consuming him whole.
Police and snake specialists found no trace of the child nor his clothing, except for a trail of flattened grass leading to a nearby stream.
The incident last week prompted widespread panic among the 50,000 residents of the township and great fascination among herpetologists across the country.
Khaye Buthelezi, 11, said his companion had been gathering fallen fruit when he was seized by the snake.
"The snake quickly wrapped itself around his body, pinning his arms to his side. He didn't cry or scream and neither did the rest of us; we didn't want the snake to come and take us as well.
"The snake squeezed tighter and tighter around him until his eyes closed and his head fell back, so I thought he was dead or had fainted. Then the snake's mouth opened very, very wide and started to swallow him from the head down his clothes and everything. It all took about three hours because it was dark when we saw it slither away and we finally came down from the tree."
Snake specialists and police followed the python's trail to a nearby stream, which the herpetologists said the snake would have used as an easy route to get away to digest its prey.
Craig Smith, the owner of a snake park in Durban, is one of those who is attempting to find the python.
"The children I spoke to had excellent detail about the snake's markings and killing technique, which suggested that they were either reptile experts or had had the chance to watch something like this for a very long time," he said.
He said the snake probably had just woken from its winter hibernation and was hungry when the boy wandered into its path.
"We have never had a case of an African rock python eating a human, but they are very opportunistic eaters and the snake was obviously hungry enough to think it could cope with a child."


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