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Mystery Death of Snake Keeper Ruled 'Misadventure' With an Overly Cuddly Python

"She was his baby. She loved him."

MIKE MCRAE
25 JAN 2018

A coroner has ruled the death of a British man found lying on his bedroom floor mid-last year the result of 'misadventure' with a rock python named Tiny.

By all accounts 31-year-old Dan Brandon was described as a responsible and competent snake enthusiast, and there were no signs that the snake was being aggressive.

 

The exact details of his death might never be known, but the coroner's final word on the matter is that Tiny the snake was simply being affectionate.

The large adult rock python was just one of 10 snakes Brandon looked after in his home in the English village of Church Crookham. Raised from a baby, Tiny had a close bond with her owner.

"She was his baby. She loved him," Brandon's mother, Barbara, told the coronial inquest.

Barbara explained how on the night of her son's death she'd heard a noise from his room that sounded like a heavy object falling over.

Checking in on him later that evening, she found Brandon unconscious on the floor with Tiny missing from her vivarium. The 2.4 metre (8 foot) long rock python was later found tucked under a cabinet.

Paramedics failed to revive Brandon, and a post-mortem later reported signs consistent with asphyxia, including heavy lungs and small haemorrhages in one eye, as well as a recently fractured rib.

Without anything more to go on, the evidence seems to point to death by python. But what was Tiny's motivation?

 

In the wild, rock pythons like Tiny prey on animals such as large rodents, antelopes, and on occasion even crocodiles, embracing them with ever-tightening coils until their heightened blood pressure causes their heart to stop beating.

Eating humans is all but unheard of. In 2002, a wild rock python attacked and swallowed a 10 year old boy near the South African city of Durban, an act so unusual it had never been recorded in this species.

Being killed by a pet python is also incredibly rare, especially among adults. A 2 year-old Florida girl was crushed by an albino Burmese python in 2009 that had escaped from a holding tank in her home.

In 2013, two young Canadian brothers were tragically strangled by an illegally owned African rock python that had escaped a nearby pet store owned by their friend's father.

In that case, snake experts speculated either the python had detected the scents of farm animals on the boys and mistaken them for prey, or – spooked by its fall from a ceiling vent – had reflexively 'clung' to them out of fear.

 

Could this be what happened to Brandon?

"The most likely scenario is that Tiny was engaged with Dan," says the coroner.

"I have no doubt she was coiling around him. There was a point at which either she took hold of him unexpectedly or trips him up or there is some other mechanism. She then makes off maybe because of the shock of him falling or the shock of his reaction."

No other scenario makes sense. While Tiny had her cranky days and could lash out defensively, the inquiry was told she had never bitten Brandon.

He was also respectful of her immense strength, taking care not to place her around his neck.

As an informed snake owner with 16 years of experience in handling the reptiles, Brandon would have also known how to remove Tiny if her squeeze became a little too enthusiastic.

For Brandon's grieving mother, the mystery is heartbreaking.

"All the family wanted was answers to our questions and I have no idea yet whether we have that or ever will," Barbara was reported to say outside of the court.

 
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