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Royal Python Python regius
Also known as the "Ball python", as it tends to roll itself into a tight ball.

Found: West Africa e.g. Sierra Leone, Togo and Senegal

Savvana and sparsely wooded plains

Seldom more that 3 or 4 feet.

small mammals

Photo by Andy Smyth, Photographer. ©

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 damaged.

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 O’Grady, 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 fate.

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.