Giant snakes are always in the last place you look.

Residents of Yokohama City can rest easy now that a gigantic 3.5-meter (12-foot) reticulated python that escaped earlier this month has been located on the evening of 22 May.

This was just one day after the police and fire department officially ended their 16-day search for the 13-kilogram (28.6-pound) serpent. Since 6 May, when the python went missing from its enclosure inside an apartment in Totsuka Ward, it managed to evade a dragnet of 270 officers equipped with thermal and fiber optic cameras, despite its large size.

Even YouTubers began flocking to the area in hopes of catching the animal on video, and possibly even trapping it in the 100-yen insect nets some brought with them if they were feeling especially lucky.

Police had initially planned to give up on 14 May, but possibly due to some fresh information and overall public concern, they extended the search for another week. However, with all leads having dried up, the authorities felt that further searching was simply spinning their wheels.

Various theories emerged as to where the python may have gotten to but it was zoo director Tsuyoshi Shirawa who thought there was a strong chance it had never left the apartment building in the first place and continued to lurk between the walls and in ceilings, citing that current temperatures were still too low for the tropical snake to want to venture outside.

▼ Shirawa also noticed how the ceiling panels were bending somewhat and suspected it was due to the weight of the snake.

So he returned to the scene of the escape, and sure enough found the snake in the loft of the apartment building, wrapped around some pipes. It seemed that after freeing itself from the case, the python crawled out the window which was left ajar and climbed up to the top of the building. There it found a crevice near the roof that it could enter and keep warm.

We were able to safely locate the escaped python in Totsuka, Yokohama. As expected, based on the temperature I was able to find it safely in the attic. Thank you to everyone involved.”

It was a good thing Shirawa’s hunch paid off. These animals can go long periods without food, but when they do get hungry, they begin to exhibit predatory behavior. This is where things can turn really bad if the wrong pet or even person happens to cross paths with such a hungry constrictor snake, which was much more likely considering it was in the building the whole time.

▼ This TV segment illustrates the the various dangers the reticulated python presents, with the help of a puppet.

This would also have been bad news for the owner of the python as he was liable for any and all damage that the snake would have caused while on the loose. Although he was legally permitted to own the animal, it was under the condition that he keep it in a tempered glass vivarium. However, at the time of its escape it was in a wooden enclosure and was able to overcome the lock on its door somehow.

According to lawyer Katsuhito Yokokume, keeping the python in an inferior enclosure demonstrated gross negligence on the part of the owner. This meant that in the event the python caused serious or fatal injuries to a human, the owner could have faced up to five years in prison and a fine of up to 500,000 yen (US$4,600) in addition to penalties awarded in related civil suits.

Actually, the owner still might get hit with a lawsuit for all the effort and mental anguish over its the snake’s escape. Such a suit happened 41 years ago in Nobeoka City, Miyazaki Prefecture when the owner of an escaped cobra was ordered to pay the city 10 million yen ($92,000) simply because it was their fault that the snake escaped.

For the time being, however, this owner may be off the hook. Ironically, he had moved out of the apartment building where the snake was both lost and found, and has also surrendered custody of the animal to the municipal government. In the end, it’s a lesson to us all that while snakes can make cute pets, the need to be handled with the utmost care for their own sake as well as everyone else’s.

Source: NTV News24, TV Asahi, Tokyo Sports Web, Nikkan Sports, Hachima Kiko
Top image: Wikipedia/苗場山
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