Maverick Citizen


Does a rock python declared extinct a century ago still live in the hills of Nelson Mandela Bay?

Does a rock python declared extinct a century ago still live in the hills of Nelson Mandela Bay?
A screenshot of the python hunters that was shared widely on social media. (Image: Screenshot)

In July 2023, images surfaced on social media of a hunting party surrounded by dogs walking the streets of Nelson Mandela Bay with a gigantic rock python carried on the shoulders of three men. The picture sparked considerable interest since this specific type of snake had been declared extinct in the area in 1927.

For a while, the story was that a hunting party from Wells Estate in Nelson Mandela Bay had killed a 4.5m rock python in the bush surrounding the Markman Industrial Park. 

Then things got weird. 

A man by the name of Jackson Lucas claimed he had killed the snake while out hunting with his pack of dogs. 

In a series of Facebook posts, he pretended to interview himself:

Breaking news: The first man who killed the python snake in the Eastern Cape Port Elizabeth.

Q: Hello Sir tell us how you managed to kill the python.

A: OK, first of all, it was very difficult. Ok, I was going hunting with my five dogs Shelly, Fasano, Doneyel and Ashmilla [We don’t know what the fifth one is called]. Those are my dogs’ names…On my way hunting I saw a big python in a tree. I was afraid. It saw me and then I tried to run but I couldn’t because I was shocked. I was running out of energy. The snake chased me in the forest and my dogs fought with it. The snake was very strong. One of my dogs Ashmilla is dead now but the other four dogs manage to kill the python.

Q: So Sir how do you feel now?

A: I am still shocked I have never seen such a big snake in my life if was my first time. 

Q: Thank you for your time, sir.

A: It is my pleasure.

A few days later he wrote another post bragging that everybody wanted to buy pieces of the snake from him: “Some are dead and some are brave,” he wrote. 

This was accompanied by a picture of a dead snake on a shack floor. 

Another post told the story of how he and the dogs “fought” the python, followed by more pictures, including one showing a bleeding python.

Lucas has ignored Daily Maverick’s attempts to contact him for comment.

Snake sleuths 

Using the social media video and pictures as a guide, three Nelson Mandela Bay snake experts confirmed this was a South African rock python. The experts were Bayworld herpetologist Dr Werner Conradie, wildlife rescue expert Arnold Slabbert and professional snake catcher Mark Marshall.

Residents confirmed having seen the men with the snake but did not know what had happened to it.

Researchers managed to track the exact location where this picture was taken but no remains or blood from the python were ever found. (Photo: Supplied)

The chairperson of the Port Elizabeth Historical Society, Graham Taylor, who is also a former director of Eastern Cape Nature, offered a reward for any information on the snake’s whereabouts and for a location where it was hunted.

The team also used location tracking to find the shack where the pictures were taken.

“We raided the premises but we found no genetic material whatsoever of a snake,” he said. 

When confronted with the findings of the team, Lucas, who claimed he was in East London, sent a message to Taylor saying: “I was very stupid and regret myself.”

A WhatsApp message to Graham Taylor where the original social media poster admitted that the hype he had created around the python was a mistake. (Image: Screenshot)

Taylor said when they first obtained the social media material, the snake was identified as a Southern African Python (Python natalensis).

“Historically, the species has been recorded in the Eastern Cape but was locally extinct in the Eastern Cape by 1927. However, reports of sightings of the Southern African Python have persisted and there is a long tradition of cultural reverence for the species,” he said.

“As far back as 1834, it has been recorded that the python was present, but rarely found within the Cape Province. Amongst the Khoisan, the python was viewed as having miraculous powers, and amongst all South Africans there was a cultural taboo on killing pythons. There was a widespread belief that the python influenced destiny, its length providing a connection to the afterlife, and no person has ever been known to maltreat pythons without, sooner or later, paying for their audacity.”

Taylor said pythons had been reported seen in the Eastern Cape but this was purely anecdotal and never confirmed by photographs or specimens.

In 1980, the rock python was introduced in the Great Fish River nature reserve, and in 1984, one was found dead on the railway tracks after a train hit it.

Taylor said that judging from the pictures, they concluded that the snake in Lucas’ photos must have been a domestic one because it was in very good condition. 

“Of course, the human propensity for pulling pranks cannot be discarded, but should that be the proven case, it would be callous and richly deserving of criminal sanction that must follow this gross environmental crime.”

He said the most plausible theory to him was that the snake was brought in by someone from KwaZulu-Natal. “It was probably not wild.”

Taylor said they were hoping, however, that the remote areas around the Coega River are home to an intact relic population. 

“The habitat and food sources are certainly there, and there are remote enough areas to accommodate such a population. Such a find would be world news, but remains unlikely,” Taylor added.

He said it’s possible the snake escaped from where it was being kept and went in search of water at the Markman Canal, which is badly polluted with sewage.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Shades of grey — why wildlife crime is proving complicated and hard to beat

Taylor called on authorities to act against those hunting in the Coega Biodiversity Area.

“The area is home to some of the most remarkable botanical treasures in the world. The convergence of different vegetation types creates a botanical hotspot of endemics such as Orthopterum coegana (a highly range-restricted plant that only occurs in the area), which is unique to Coega.

“The last remnant populations of critically endangered species such as Aloe bowiea and Ledebouria coriacea occur in the exact areas from which dog hunters have exited. 

“Private landowners are doing remarkable conservation work, but the ball is being dropped by the large institutional role players. These environmental crimes are taking place on land owned by the municipality, housing, port, and industrial development authorities. 

“On any Sunday, these crimes flourish.

“The story of the python hunting must stop … it’s a tragic story for which the authorities must take responsibility,” he said.

Taylor added that they were still very keen to find any genetic material of the snake so they could determine its origins. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Sean Hammon says:

    With overpopulation, persistent superstition, poor education, increasing poverty, urban sprawl, farm attacks, thorough disregard for conservation and zero accountable leadership, any glimmer of hope of anything other that a barren, polluted, poisoned, litter-strewn ecological desert, is a pipe dream. The relentless march of the parasite.

    • Marianne McKay says:

      You forgot the crows, cockroaches, rats and cats living in the concrete and plastic covered wasteland. They will still be there. Maybe a few pigeons too, making nests out of cable ties.

  • Jan Vos says:

    Nah. This is Not a Rock Python. This is an adult Kwaiti Python (Pythonoidia kasi) – a very common snake in the hills of Mandela Bay. It lives off the discarded PVC insulation from stolen electric cables.

  • John Patson says:

    In around 1984, on Mountain Drive above the then Grahamstown, I was running and nearly stepped on a 1.5 metre python — I know it was a python as I have seen them in the bush before, my Dad was a keen naturalist. In Zim they are (were) Royal Game, and jail follows anyone found to have poached them.
    Told the biology department and the stupid sods laughed, and said it must have been a puff adder. It was not, there were plenty of puff adders up there, and they look different and seldom reached 1.5 metres.
    Lots of poachers both with dogs, and the from local police with rifles and spotlights up there, so doubt it lasted long if it stayed in the area.

    • Bonzo Gibbon says:

      Back then, Mountain Drive was largely an alien gum tree forest, almost devoid of life apart from Rhodes students drinking and fornicating. On visiting a few years ago, I was heartened to see that the gum trees had been cleared and the area had been rewilded. Streams were flowing again and there was birdsong in the air.

      • John Patson says:

        They were not gum trees but scrubby Australian willows which dominated, forget their name. And there was more wild life than appeared — little buck, reptiles, snakes, some feral cats — all adapting to the alien landscape.

    • Confucious Says says:

      I used to catch snakes there and across in the Bots as a student. In all my time there, I never saw a python. Would have loved that!

  • Johan Buys says:

    That Python was up in a tree? Sure

  • Jack Russell says:

    If you want to see similar plantation tragedy drive from Bulwer to Underberg where the open savannah and great trout streams of my youth are now gone. SA apparently has one of the best climates for growing, at the highest profit levels, alien trees for the pulp industry……. just another sign of human overpopulation and greed.

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