Searching for the snake god

(No.10, Vol.4,Nov-Dec 2014 Vietnam Heritage Magazine)

Python brongersmai

About four years ago, Tuan, a young member of the Vietnam Forest Creatures group, who lived near the National park Lo Go – Sa Mac, Tay Ninh Province, called me and said that he saw a very beautiful snake. Its skin was a dark bloody colour, with evenly arranged patterns on the back. He was thrilled, thinking that he saw a snake deity, because his business went quite smoothly afterwards.
Recently, he called me again and excitedly related about another encounter with the ‘snake deity’ that he met earlier.
Tuan sent me some photos he took with his mobile phone, under the shade of dense forest canopy. Although the pictures were unclear, I could guess that it was very likely that his ‘deity’ belonged to one of the three families of Pythons that live in Vietnam.
We agreed to go together and see this ‘snake deity’. It was the end of June, and the morning rain seemed to go on forever. Near the border with Cambodia, the water from the canals has flooded parts of the Lo Go – Sa Mac National Park.
I called a brother-in-arms of mine, who was at the time, head of a forest guard post of the national park, to tell him about our intention. Though not planning to join us, he kindly assigned two of his rangers to accompany our research group. The rain didn’t stop. We decided to hike, following Tuan. In many places, the water was already knee-deep. When we came to where Tuan found the snake, the rain stopped. We started scouring an area of about a kilometre in diameter. It was exhausting. Above us, the scorching sun began to penetrate the canopy.
We continued searching with the same method and scale until sunset, but found nothing. We had to stop to make shelter for the colourless, endless night.
The next morning, the birds and insects began noisily calling each to other when the forest was still dark under a thick layer of steam. It was a chaos of awakened life. Suddenly, we shuddered and jumped out from under our blankets, hearing Tuan’s hysterical shriek. Everybody rushed toward the sound. Not far from the camp, Tuan was dead pale, his eyes bulging in a fixed stare at a bush of weeds. His snake was sleeping peacefully with a full belly after a hunting night.
Experienced in taking reptile samples, I softly pushed the leaves aside and looked at the snake in the torch light without disturbing it.
After careful examination, I could now surely confirm to the Vietnamese and international amphibian reptile researchers that they don’t have to doubt about the existence of Python brongersmai in Vietnam any more.
Because of their beautiful natural colours and patterns, Python brongersmai had been hunted near extinction to satisfy human vanity. They had been being considered ‘lost’ from our country after many years.
It was recorded that in 1970, biologist Campden noted seeing the species sold in Saigon. In 1977 Grandison also noted that it was raised in Ho Chi Minh City, Binh Thuan and Ca Mau. As recently as 2005, a Vietnamese reptile researcher, Dr. Nguyen Quang Truong and his colleagues also saw it being raised and sold at some farms in Ho Chi Minh City. Nevertheless the above unconnected facts couldn’t be evidences that these pythons did live in our country because nobody has seen and collected their samples in the wild.
For the safety of these rare and beautiful pythons, we cannot disclose the area of their distribution, not even in scientific research reports.
Pythons are mostly big snakes, and among the three python families that exist in Vietnam, python brongersmai are the smallest. Python brongersmai are narrowly distributed in Southern Vietnam. They are more widely distributed in neighbouring countries: Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand and Cambodia.
These snakes are not only short and thick, but they also have many colours, different among individuals: black, dark red, golden and white. arranged in very beautiful and exotic patterns. They have small triangular head, with two hollows near the tip of the mouth. There are two small spur-like spikes on two sides of the anus. The head is yellow, with a greyish black stripe running from the mouth to the sides of the neck. The back is brown, with a line of big yellow dots, which become longer and more frequent toward the tail. The sides have large, bluish grey dots with a black kernel. The body is up to two metres long.

Text and photo by Phung My Trung
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