Last Friday, a 54-year-old woman was killed and swallowed whole by a 23-foot-long reticulated python in Muna regency, Southeast Sulawesi, Indonesia. Wa Tiba had taken a flashlight and machete and walked to her vegetable garden, about a kilometer away from her house. It is reported that she feared wild hogs digging up her corn and other vegetables. When she didn’t return, a search party was dispatched the next day. They found her sandals, flashlight, and machete. Nearby was the swollen and nearly comatose snake, with an unmistakable bulge. The snake was killed and taken back to the village. In various videos taken at the scene, a clamoring, almost raucous crowd gathers around the dead snake on the ground, while many take video with their cellphones as a man carefully slices the snake open. Inside lay Wa Tiba, fully clothed except for her sandals.
A year ago, a man on an adjacent island was eaten by a python, also 23 feet long. The news story in the Washington Post likened the odds of being killed and eaten by a python to being struck by lightning and winning the lottery at the same time.
These events—naturally—haven’t stopped some outlets from declaring that an “epidemic” of snake attacks has hit Indonesia.
Attacks like this one, apart from titillating our interest in the macabre, seem to strike at a genetic hardwiring in us to fear serpents, especially ones big enough to swallow you. National Geographic reports that a study conducted in the Philippines in 2011 showed that a group of people living in the jungle there not only share “an evolutionary history” with snakes (I’m not quite sure how you’d test for this) but also that compete with them. A survey reported that 26 percent of a village’s men had been attacked by pythons. I once saw a TV show in which a survivor of such an attack explained rather calmly that he’d survived “by keeping the snake’s head away so it couldn’t bite.”
I’d like to think I’d have that cool a head. But my personal likelihood of that are about the same as being struck by lightning and winning the lottery at the same time.