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Residents anxious as police call off search for missing 3.5-meter python in Yokohama

This image shows a reticulated python kept at the Japan Snake Center. (Photo Courtesy of the Japan Snake Institute)

YOKOHAMA -- Police have called off a search for a 3.5-meter-long reticulated python that escaped from an apartment in Yokohama's Totsuka Ward half a month after it disappeared, leaving locals anxious.

    On May 6, Totsuka Police Station received a report from a man in his 20s living in an apartment in the ward saying that his pet python was missing. The snake is believed to have escaped from its wooden cage while the man was out. The lock on the cage was broken. A window in the apartment was ajar, meaning it is possible the snake escaped outside.

    According to the Japan Snake Institute in the Gunma Prefecture city of Ota, reticulated pythons inhabit the tropics of Southeast Asia, and they like a warm, humid climate. The snakes eat mainly birds and other small animals, but in the right environment, they can survive on only water for two to three months.

    Reticulated pythons are not venomous, but apparently have the power to crush a baby or a dog to death with their bodies. When they reach a length of over 6 meters, they can also pose a danger to adults. The snakes are designated as specified animals that could harm people, and permission and observance of specific requirements is needed to keep them as pets. Under a revision to Japan's Act on Welfare and Management of Animals, people have been banned from keeping them as new pets from June 2020.

    Japan Snake Institute researcher Yu Takaki commented, "Basically, if you don't do anything to them, they won't attack. In terms of avoiding danger, we'd advise people not to enter grassy areas. If they find the python, they shouldn't go near it, but call the police." As for where the snake could be hiding, Takagi said, "With the temperatures as they are in May it won't be active, so I'd guess it would be within a 100-meter radius (of the apartment building). It could be hiding above the ceiling of an apartment, so experts need to check carefully for it everywhere."

    Police search for the python in Yokohama's Totsuka Ward on May 19, 2021. (Mainichi/Daisuke Makino)

    Police officers, firefighters and staff from a municipal animal protection center spread out gradually from May 6 looking for the snake within a 300-meter radius of the apartment. They inspected the gardens of neighboring residences, thickets and grassy areas and drains. They also put frozen mice -- which reticulated pythons like to eat -- in a cage and waited for it, and about 100 people were involved in a weekend search, all to no effect.

    On May 21, police decided to call off their search, saying that two weeks had passed without them getting any idea of where it might have gone or any leads from witnesses. Firefighters and the animal protection center have indicated they will keep searching for the snake until the end of the month.

    Residents remain anxious about the missing python. Keiya Hama, 26, who lives about 10 minutes' walk from the apartment where the snake went missing, commented, "It's an area with an elementary school and lots of children, so I want them to find it quickly. It would be no good if it came out after people had forgotten about it and caused a panic." A homemaker in her 40s who has a child in elementary school said, "I'm telling the children not to go playing outside, but I wonder how long we have to be on guard."

    The Japan Snake Center operated by the Japan Snake Institute has released a video explaining reticulated pythons via its YouTube channel as well as through Twitter and other social media.

    (Japanese original by Daisuke Makino, Yokohama Bureau)

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