It had been a week since Loralei the Burmese python’s eyes were cloudy. She had been donated to the zoo after filming the movie Striptease with Demi Moore. It was typical to not feed snakes about to shed their skin since they usually wouldn’t eat. Loralei now 11′ long weighing 50 pounds hadn’t been fed for a week when I cleaned her exhibit. When I went in she was up in the limbs of the section of a tree we had put in for her to stimulate natural activity.
Her eyes still cloudy she wouldn’t be fed this morning either. As soon as she shed she would be fed. I went about my day as usual. When it came time to close the zoo down for the day I went to enter Loralei’s exhibit to insure all was well. As I opened the door she was stretched along the length of the exhibit with her head next to the door I’d just opened.
I noticed she had shed her skin. Didn’t think much of it but would note it in the daily report so she would be fed the next morning. I casually bent over to grasp her head so I could move her out of the way to check the exhibit. In an instant my right hand was in her mouth, her body wrapping around my arm. I was shocked how fast it happened. Within seconds her entire body was off the floor attempting to keep wrapping around me as she kept constricting tighter.
She couldn’t get her long body around my arm so the rest of her was trying to loop around my head and neck. The situation was becoming dangerous. With my right hand and arm in her grasp and my left trying to push off the rest of her I couldn’t reach my two-way radio to call for help. I noticed the water container was still full so I knelt down and pushed her head into the water.
When I did she constricted my arm so tightly I thought she might break it. I quickly pulled her head out of the water. I looked around for another option. The only thing I could see possible was a limb from the tree inside the exhibit reaching over the doorway. I thought if I could get her tail up on that she might try to grasp it or I might be able to keep her away from my neck long enough to call for help.
I tried but her tail kept trying for my head and neck area. I moved in closer to the tree and pushed part of her up again then moved my head down under the tree pressing against the lower side of the limb. It worked. I was able to get the radio out of the pouch on my belt and call in a zookeeper-in-trouble code to security. Security rebroadcast the information to all the zookeepers. By then Loralei had moved her body down to my head again. I dropped the radio then kept pushing her away.
It was very quiet by then as all the visitors had left so the natural sounds of the zoo could be easily heard. After about a minute or so I could hear the sound of multiple keys hitting each other. That unmistakable sound when lock keys on a key ring strike each other. That’s odd I thought for a moment when I realize what it was. It was the sound of about a half dozen zookeepers running to come help me. What a wonderful sound that was.
Several zookeepers arrived then started to unravel Loralei off my arm. In all the excitement I hadn’t realized my hand wasn’t just in her mouth she had embedded dozens of teeth about a 1/4″ long into my hand as well and had no intention of letting go. The zookeepers would be at risk for bite if they tried to use their hands to peel her mouth away. The zookeeper with the most snake experience went to our food prep area and returned with some rubbing alcohol.
He took put some on his finger so it would drip off in drops. He held his finger over her nostrils and let one drop fall into them while another zookeeper held her behind the head. Almost as fast as she had attached herself to me she was letting go. She flexed her jaws attempting to remove the teeth she had been grasping me with. I could feel them tearing out of my fingers. It was gnarly. My goodness the sensation of those teeth pulling out of my flesh was hardcore.
Loralei detached I drove to the hospital for x-rays to insure there were no teeth left behind and was given some antibiotics as a precaution. Loralei never tried to eat me again after that. Policy was changed so that there had to be two zookeepers working together whenever we worked with large snakes. What an experience that was. -13