This, the smallest of the African pythons, occurs in West Africa -
Sierra Leone, Togo, Senegal. With a maximum length of just less than
a metre, these brightly-coloured, stocky snakes, achieve the name
ball python because of their habit of curling into a ball if threatened.
A favourite snake of pet keepers, more and more are being bred in
captivity, thank goodness. Newly imported animals often refuse to
feed for lengthy periods and can be heavily parasitised, if not actually
Frequenting grasslands, savannah and sparsely-wooded plains, royal
pythons retreat to mammal burrows in the ground and holes in trees
during the dry season and for egg-laying. Fifteen years ago, Zoo Director,
Richard OGrady, vividly remembers seeing boxes of freshly-imported
royals being uncrated in a London dealers. Many of the snakes had
white, necrotic tissue caused by actually being burnt as they were
smoked out of the hollow trees they were hiding in.
In the wild, they are a favoured food item of the people living within
their range, as well as being killed for their skins. Their attempted
illegal importation into Britain seems to be more or less under control
these days, though the mid to late 1980s were punctuated with horror
stories. Sometimes, hundreds, if not thousands of snakes were turned
back and returned to West Africa, where one can only imagine at their
In captivity a temperature of 27EC suits them very well. Most pet
owners use a hiding box within the cage from which the snake sallies
forth at intervals when it feels hungry or thirsty or just needs exercise.
There is something about tame and well-fed royals which is immensely
appealing, and it is little wonder they are so popular with pet owners
and zoo visitors alike.