The famous Diablo
The San Diego Zoo has had pythons in its collection since its earliest days. One of our most famous python residents was an Indian python named Diablo, who arrived from India at 23 feet (7 meters) long and weighing 200 pounds (90 kilograms). Diablo would not eat unless held by several men while ground meat was forced down his throat every few months. As word of the feeding spread, more and more visitors came to the Zoo to witness the spectacle. In 1924, the Zoo moved Diablo’s feeding to a nearby stadium and admission was charged for each adult—a great way for the fledgling zoo to earn money!
Our Zoo’s founder, Dr. Harry Wegeforth, wrote, “All during this snake’s life, it never once ate of its own volition, yet it lived longer and more healthily than snakes who ate normally.”
We currently have six python species on exhibit in the San Diego Zoo’s Reptile House, including colorful Boelen’s pythons in the northeast corner of the House and Indian pythons in the northwest corner. Zoo guests can also admire one of our albino Burmese pythons living along the Zoo’s Tiger Trail. Burmese pythons’ typical coloration is brown, tan, and black, but the albino variation lacks those color pigments, and the snake is white with a yellow pattern. In the wild, albino snakes rarely survive because both predators and prey can spot them more easily, but they are striking to look at in zoos.
Python ambassadorsFour python species serve as animal ambassadors, used by our Education Department for presentations to school groups and tours. They include another albino Burmese python named Saffron, two young woma brothers (hatched here in 2007) named Mickie and Nooroo, a Madagascan ground boa named Manja, and Monty, a ball python. These gentle and beautiful creatures allow our guests to view pythons up close and touch them, helping to dispel the myth that snakes are slimy and scary.
The San Diego Zoo Safari Park has a ball python that serves as an animal ambassador as well. Nyoka (Swahili for “snake”) is one popular guy. He travels all over the Safari Park, the city, the state, and even the southwestern United States, helping to spread the word about the need for conservation and the dangers of the pet trade. His docile nature and years of experience being photographed and touched by the public has made him one of the Park’s favorite reptile celebrities.
Many people in Asia, Australia, and Africa live closer to pythons than they think, as the snakes often use backyards, basements, and roofs as their habitat. Pythons may also live on or near farms or gardens, where rodent species are abundant. Some people appreciate the pest control pythons provide, but others consider the snakes to be the pests and kill them on sight. Pythons are often run over on purpose while sunning on or crossing a road. In Asia, pythons are killed for folk medicine uses and as a food source, and the larger python species, particularly the Indian python, are killed for their beautiful patterned skin, which is used for clothing and apparel.
In Australia, pythons are a protected species, although many are illegally taken from the wild to support a growing trade in pet pythons. And pythons everywhere suffer from loss of habitat.