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Norwich Bulletin - 11/8/2010

The Anaconda as a Pet

When I was in Panama I was lucky enough to attend a Pet Exposition in Panama City. It was much different than what we are used to in that there were many snakes for sale as well as a giant tortoise walking around the building all day long! I was fascinated by a beautiful yellow and white snake and asked his owner if I could hold her. And this is what I learned while talking to him.

Living in the swamps, rivers and bogs throughout the rainforest in South America, is the Anaconda. A reptile that can be more than twenty feet long and weighing an average of 550 pounds. In fact, the Anaconda is the largest snake on the planet.

In Spanish, the name Anaconda, means “bull killer.” It is the largest mammalian predator in the world and is on the top of the food chain in many South American countries. They can eat an adult cow, a small crocodile and, a human. They are the only predator that can attack and kill a jaguar! Wish I knew all that before I asked to hold her.

The yellow anaconda is a water lover and the smaller of the two anacondas (green and yellow). Both types originate from the Amazon region of South America and both are noted for having an aggressive temperament. The yellow is easier to find captive born. So yes, these snakes are dangerous wild animals, but some brave souls opt to keep them as pets. Needless to say, they should only be kept by very experienced large snake handlers.

And even if you are the owner, never handle one of these large snakes alone. Experts recommend that there be one experienced handler for every three feet of snake because of their nervous disposition. They do not have a poisonous bite, but they are large and powerful. They are constrictors and like boas and pythons they kill their prey by squeezing them so that the blood supply is cut off.

The enclosure for your pet anaconda needs to be large enough for the snake and must include a large container of water for them to swim in. As much of two-thirds of the enclosure can be water and should be at least six inches deep. You must insure that the enclosure is completely escape proof. Large snakes are very strong and can push doors and lids open unless they are very tightly sealed. The particular snake I was holding has a locked enclosure and is kept in its own locked room.

I was assured that yellow anacondas can make gentle pets if they are handled gently and frequently while young. And the best pets are the snakes that are captive bred and have already been started on food and being handled.

Remember that anacondas are indigenous to the rain forest where it is very hot and humid. Their enclosure needs to have a temperature of about 90 degrees Fahrenheit and never less than 75 degrees. There are a number of products for adding heat to the cage, such as ceramic heaters, light bulbs and undertank heating pads.

The enclosures must be kept clean or the health of their skin will suffer. This can be tough because the humidity in the cage needs to be kept at least 50% or more. Usually owners make a special box for humidity by lining a plastic container with moist sphagnum moss. Make a hold for the snake in the humidity box and put it on the warm end of the enclosure. There should also be two water dishes. Snakes tend to eliminate in the water so they will have to be washed frequently.

Feeding time can be a little difficult. It is NOT recommended that you feed your anaconda live prey. It is best to feed a pre killed mouse or rat every week. Anacondas like a secure environment for eating so the best time to feed is at twilight and you can place obstacles around the enclosure so that the snake can hide and have privacy while eating.

I noticed how strong the anaconda was because she wanted to bring her head across my chest and I didn’t want her to. It was a struggle to hold on to her and get her to keep her head facing front. She was so strong I knew I was losing the battle and asked her owner to take her back. So I know the warning of always having two people available when handling the snake is probably very good advice, even when you are doing a routine cage cleaning.

Anacondas are known to have nervous dispositions but do not have the reputation for being killers like the Burmese python and other large snakes. However, I would not let my Anaconda play with my children or other pets and I suggest you always treat the snake with caution and give them the respect they deserve.

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