Four-Year-Old Wilbur Is Ambushed and Eaten Whole by a Thirteen-Foot-Long Pet Burmese Python in Bristol
"He never stood a chance against a creature more than thirteen times his weight with such immense power. Wilbur was crushed, asphyxiated, and consumed whole...The fact he was trapped like this would have been his ultimate fear."
-- Martin Wadey
Adopted from a farmer in July of 2005 as a seven-week-old kitten, Wilbur always had been shy and skittish. Over time, however, he began to relax around his guardians, Martin and Helen Wadey, and soon became one of the bright spots of their childless marriage. (See photo above.)
The happy times came to an abrupt and horribly tragic end on June 25th when he strayed into a neighbor's backyard on Upper Sandhurst Road in the Brislington section of Bristol and was eaten by a thirteen-foot-long pet Burmese python. "We don't know whether Wilbur stumbled across the snake and it was an opportunistic kill, or if the snake was actively hunting him," Martin told the Bristol Evening Post on August 8th. (See "Pet Cat Eaten Alive by Python in Bristol Garden.")
Although they were several doors away at the time of the fatal attack, the Wadeys immediately recognized Wilbur's loud, desperate cries for help. "...We heard the python's strike from the terrified scream that came from Wilbur and the subsequent blood-chilling cries as he fought for his life," Martin continued. "Then in less than a minute, all was silent." (See photo of him and Helen on the left below.)
From the account of events given in the Bristol Evening Post it is not exactly clear how the Wadeys knew where Wilbur was and that he had been eaten by a snake. It is not even certain if they were aware that their neighbor, Darren Bishop, even owned a python.
Be that as it may, the Wadeys hustled on over to Bishop's residence and began pounding on his chamber door but he refused to open up and they were forced to go away empty-handed. They returned time and time again over the course of the next two days but he stubbornly refused to respond to their entreaties until they showed up with an inspector from the RSPCA in tow.
After demanding to be shown the snake, the unidentified inspector immediately spotted a large bulge in its abdomen and consequently ordered Bishop to run a microchip scanner over it. Sadly, this exercise in the macabre confirmed once and for all time the Wadeys' worst fears, namely, that all which remained of their beloved Wilbur now consisted of an undigested glob of fur, bones, and flesh inside the python.
While there are both positives and negatives associated with microchipping cats, it is highly unlikely that proponents of these invasive and snooping devices are going to be touting the role that one of them played in Wilbur's sad demise as a selling point. (See Cat Defender posts of May 25, 2006 and September 21, 2007 entitled, respectively, "Plato's Misadventures Expose the Pitfalls of RFID Technology as Applied to Cats" and "FDA Is Suppressing Research That Shows Implanted Microchips Cause Cancer in Mice, Rats, and Dogs.")
For his part, Bishop told the RSPCA that he had left the snake unattended between the hours of 7 and 8 p.m. on the evening in question while he was inside shaving and putting away his laundry. He furthermore maintains in the face of all logic and experience that since he feeds the snake only dead prey he was unaware that it would kill a live animal.
The veracity of his comments is undermined because of his failure to account for why he did not respond when the Wadeys pounded on his portal for two days. Surely he must have heard Wilbur's screams if the Wadeys were able to have heard them several doors down the block. Even more egregious is his steadfast unwillingness to apologize to them.
Needless to say, the horrific demise of their handsome brown and white, four-year-old moggy has turned the Wadeys' lives upside down. "It was so traumatic for us. The sound of his cries and the fact we were so close by but couldn't help him has been very distressing," Martin told the Bristol Evening Post in the article cited supra.
He also is acutely distressed by what Wilbur was forced to endure during the final minutes of his all-too-brief existence. "He never stood a chance against a creature more than thirteen times his weight with such immense power," he continued. "Wilbur was crushed, asphyxiated, and consumed whole...The fact he was trapped like this would have been his ultimate fear."
As horrific as his death was, the fact that there was nothing left of Wilbur for the Wadeys to even bury has proven to be the final insult. "We couldn't say goodbye to him or bury him or any of the other things you would do if he had been run over or died another way," Martin told the Bristol Evening Post.
Unlike cobras, corals, South American bushmasters, the fer-de-lance, moccasins, rattlesnakes, vipers, and other poisonous snakes, nonvenomous pythons do not fall within the purview of the Dangerous Wild Animals Act (DWAA) of 1976. This is in spite of the fact that because of their size and strength they can be every bit as lethal as their venomous counterparts.
There are other glaring incongruities in the DWAA as well. For example, licenses are required in order for individuals to keep certain species of such harmless animals as kangaroos, monkeys, lemurs, reindeer, and armadillos.
As a result, Bishop escaped with a tongue-lashing from the RSPCA. "The RSPCA is not concerned about people keeping exotic animals as pets as long as the owners are fully informed about what they are taking on and seek professional advice from an expert on how to provide for their pet," the organization's Jude Clay told the Bristol Evening Post.
Incensed as well as heartbroken over Wilbur's untimely death, the Wadeys have inaugurated an online petition at www.justiceforwilbur.co.uk to have the DWAA amended to include Burmese pythons, boa constrictors, and all nonvenomous but lethal snakes. Much more importantly, the proposed Wilbur's Amendment also would hold owners accountable for the actions of their snakes.
"We do not want Wilbur's death to be in vain," Helen told the Bristol Evening Post. "We want those sorts of snakes to be licensed and for owners to be prosecuted if they leave them unattended as well as having to inform people living nearby that they own one."
To date, the petition had garnered four-thousand-three-hundred-sixty-four signatures in addition to the endorsement of Bristol East MP Kerry McCarthy. It is unclear, however, whether the DWAA can be amended by executive fiat (10 Downing Street) or requires an act of Parliament.
Since wildlife biologists and enthusiasts so firmly believe that the only good cat is a dead one, they are sans doute overjoyed at Wilbur's death and most certainly will oppose any amending of the DWAA. Considerably more is at stake here, however, than merely the welfare of cats.
For example, a two-year-old girl in Oxford, Florida, was strangled to death on July 1st by a pet albino Burmese python that had escaped from its holding tank during the night. (See Reuters, July 1, 2009, "Pet Python Kills Florida Toddler.")
Pythons and other large snakes sometimes are employed by criminals in order to either assault individuals or to frighten them into handing over their valuables. On August 8th in the Merryweather Close section of Bradley Stoke in South Gloucestershire, for example, a gang of juveniles coaxed a green python into inflicting two bite wounds on a fourteen-year-old lad in what the authorities have branded as a racist attack. (See BBC, August 9, 2009, "Gang Uses Snake in Street Attack.")
In New York City, large snakes have been used for both intimidation and to facilitate robberies for at least the past twenty-five years. Some of the victims of these attacks have been left so traumatized that they live in mortal fear of both real and imaginary snakes.
Although they are no doubt well intended, it is unclear how the revisions that the Wadeys want made to the DWAA would have saved Wilbur. More to the point, unless they are willing to install cat fencing and thus confine their three surviving felines to their property, they are in grave danger of losing them to the same fate that befell Wilbur.
Sometimes even doing that much is insufficient in order to ensure the safety of cats because Burmese pythons and other dangerous snakes like to wander. In March of 2008, a python slithered into the yard of fifty-eight-year-old Ruth Butterworth in the Bridgeman Downs section of Brisbane, Queensland, and attacked her cat, Tuffy.
"Here was this evil thing coming out of the fence, coming down, and within a couple of seconds it had the cat," she later recalled. Not about to stand idly by while her beloved Tuffy was eaten, Butterworth began pummeling the snake with both fists until it finally gave up and crawled off into the bushes.
During this frantic life and death struggle, she was bitten twice and suffered a broken wrist but the important thing is that both she and Tuffy, unlike poor Wilbur, survived. (See photo above.)
Coco, a cat owned by Butterworth's mother, was not nearly so lucky in that days earlier it was eaten most likely by the same snake. (See Cat Defender post of March 14, 2008 entitled "Brisbane Woman Is Bitten Twice by a Voracious Python but Still Somehow Manages to Save the Life of Her Cat, Tuffy.")
Because of the threat that they pose to humans as well as cats, a good case could be made for proscribing private ownership of pythons. Since that is not in the cards presently, it is necessary that cat-owners living in close proximity to them install electrified wires on the outside of normal cat fencing in order to keep them out of their yards. It would not be a bad idea to snake-proof their residences as well just in case any of these crawling behemoths should break through their perimeter defenses.
Native to the rain forests of southeast Asia, Python molurus bivittatus is itself one of the most exploited and abused animals on the planet. Traditionally they have been killed for their valuable skins which are turned into expensive leather goods and their body parts which are a staple of folk medicine. Zoos do a bustling business trafficking in them and the Chinese even enjoy them on a plate.
In recent years, captive breeders have discovered that there is a substantial market for pet pythons and that individuals will shell out big bucks for the novelty of owning one of them. This also has led breeders to create so-called designer albino, green, granite, dwarf, leucistic, and caramel Burmese pythons.
While it is not known if these mutations are the end product solely of sophisticated breeding techniques or if DNA manipulation and possibly even cloning are involved, this naked exploitation of their genes for financial gain is a disturbing similarity that they share in common with cats and many other animals. (See Cat Defender posts of November 17, 2008, February 20, 2008, and July 10, 2006 entitled, respectively, "Mr. Green Genes' Coming Out Party Ushers In a New Era of Unspeakable Atrocities to Be Committed Against Cats by Cloners and Vivisectors," "Exotic and Hybrid Cats, Perennial Objects of Exploitation and Abuse, Are Now Being Mutilated, Abandoned, and Stolen," and "More Devilry from Scientific Community as California Company Creates World's First Hypoallergenic Cat.")
While the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and other federal agencies have been trapping, killing, and electronically monitoring an unspecified number of pythons in the Everglades National Park for years, earlier this summer the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FFWCC) hired thirteen wildlife biologists and pythons experts to hunt down and kill the snakes both during the day and at night on foot as well as in airboats on state-owned land south of Lake Okeechobee. In some instances even dogs are used in order to track and bait the snakes.
Under this gruesome plan, once the biologists locate a snake they grab it by its tail, stretch it out, cut off its head, and then bash out its brains with a steel rod. According to the veterinarians who stooge for the FFWCC and USFWS, this method of eradication is considered to be humane. As of September 2nd, the killing spree had so far resulted in the extermination of seventeen pythons.
Once the pythons have been robbed of their freedom and lives, their killers are free to violate their corpses with impunity. The first order of business is to determine their sex. Following that, they are weighed, measured, and their stomachs sliced open and inventoried. The location of their capture and execution also is recorded for use in future extermination campaigns.
The data collected during these patently immoral and inhumane slaughters are then used as the basis for an endless stream of journal articles, books, and seminars, all of which put additional blood money into the killers' pockets as well as those of their paymasters at the FFWCC. The bureaucrats also employ this data in order to procure more welfare funding for additional killing sprees.
While it is not known what is done with the pythons' valuable skins and body parts, it is hard to believe that officials at FFWCC do not cash in one way or another on them as well. While it is possible that some of the snakes' remains are peddled to commercial interests for under-the-table profits, it is a given that museums, taxidermists, zoos, and researchers receive their share of them in exchange for quid pro quo considerations later on down the line.
For example, the Florida Museum of Natural History, located on the campus of the University of Florida in Gainesville, already has received its cut of the action. On July 23rd, Larry Cretul, speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, was invited over by a grinning Kenneth Krysko, a herpetologist at the museum, to ogle a pregnant python that had been sliced open and put on display. (See photo above.)
The same thing happened to a jaguar named Macho B after he was repeatedly illegally trapped, radio-collared, and finally murdered earlier this year by the Arizona Game and Fish Department and the USFWS. (See Cat Defender post of May 21, 2009 entitled "Macho B, America's Last Jaguar, Is Illegally Trapped, Radio-Collared, and Killed Off by Wildlife Biologists in Arizona.")
No fewer than nine institutions and individuals shared in the windfall from this magnificent animal's body. Those profiting from his death included, inter alia, the Phoenix Zoo, the Arizona Veterinary Diagnostic Lab, the United States Geological Survey Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wisconsin, the University of California at Davis, the University of Arizona at Tucson, the American Museum of Natural History in Gotham, the San Diego Zoo, a taxidermist, and a tanner.
The same fate befell an unfortunate cougar that was gunned down in a hail of bullets by the cops on April 14, 2008 after he wandered into the North Side of Chicago. (See Cat Defender post of May 5, 2008 entitled "Chicago's Rambo Style Cops Corner and Execute a Cougar to the Delight of the Hoi Polloi and the Capitalist Media.")
"It seemed like every researcher in the world wanted a piece of this cougar so they could test this and that," Donna Alexander of Cook County Animal and Rabies Control (CCARC) kvetched to the Chicago Tribune on April 30, 2008. (See "Scientists Clamor to Study Cougar Shot in Chicago.")
Once the dust had settled the big winners in this financial sweepstakes were the Brookfield Zoo and the Field Museum, that is, in addition to Alexander's own department.
"The best thing that's going to come out of this (slaughter) is the collection of scientific information for the state," Jeff Fobb, a bounty hunter for the FFWCC, admitted to the Los Angeles Times on August 2nd. (See "Snake Hunters Scour Everglades for Burmese Python.") Moreover, with some experts estimating that there could be as many as one-hundred-fifty-thousand pythons in south Florida, that is a considerable amount of killing and moola to be parceled out to various individuals and groups.
For whatever it is worth, Fobb nevertheless maintains that his motives are as pure as the driven snow. "I'm not looking at making money," he continued. "This is an excuse to go fool around in the Everglades."
Fobb, who also holds down a good-paying day job with Miami-Dade Fire Rescue, can run off at the mouth about whatever he pleases but the stubborn fact remains that a person can "fool around" in the Everglades without killing snakes and taking blood money for doing so. (See photo above of him on the prowl.)
He did, however, admit to the Times that killing snakes was "the least pleasant part of this experience."
Greg Graziani, a breeder of ball pythons (Python regius) from Venus, Florida, who also is working as a bounty hunter for the FFWCC, fully shares Fobb's lack of scruples and honesty. "That is not something that as hunters and as python breeders that we particularly want to do. But it is part of the criteria for this program," he told Living on Earth on July 31st. (See "Python Be Gone.") "Unfortunately that is the downside, as you know, a snake lover myself. Would I rather that somebody else handle (sic) the euthanization process, definitely. But that's just something we have to do."
Graziani's hunting partner, wildlife biologist Shawn Heflick of Palm Bay, operates in the same cash-driven moral twilight. "I'm a snake lover," he boasted to the CBC's As It Happens on July 22nd. (See "Python Hunter.") "It (killing them) is not something that I relish. I don't like the idea that they have to be killed but I understand, especially as a biologist, that they are exotic, don't belong there, and there's nothing else to do with them." (See photo of him directly above.)
If the blatant hypocrisies, prejudices, inanities, and mercenary greed that characterizes wildlife biologists and their comrades-in-arms in the so-called wildlife protection movement were not a powerful enough indictment of their profession, the unbridled joy that many of them derive from abusing and killing animals, both wild and domestic, would certainly be the icing on the cake. "I think it's extremely exciting," Graziani gushed to Living on Earth in the article cited supra. "I mean, again, I wish they weren't there. But very few people can go python hunting in the United States because they're just not there."
This mass eradication is being undertaken ostensibly because pythons are alleged to be a threat to native species living in south Florida. Yet when pressed on the matter, even the biologists admit that there is not any scientific evidence to back up such a claim.
"(There is a) little bit of concern about endangered species," was all that Heflick had to say on the subject when he was queried by the CBC.
Graziani is even more dubious. "And what we want to find out because it is really not known at this point is, are these animals a serious threat to the ecosystem in the Everglades?" he confided to Living on Earth in the article cited supra. "Do we need to work on a total eradication? Do we simply need to work on controlling the population of these animals? Or are they a problem at all?"
The necessity of this entire eradication program is furthermore called into question by the petit fait that the USFWS has been capturing and radio-tagging an unspecified number of pythons in Everglades National Park for years. Although the particulars of this experiment are not known, presumably the snakes are trapped, tagged, monitored for a specific period of time, and then recaptured and killed.
From analyses conducted on the contents of their stomachs, the biologists in all likelihood already know what the snakes are eating and whether or not they pose a significant threat to any native species. With Americans, however, it is always kill first and then ask questions later, especially if there is either any money to be made or jollies to be derived from doing so.
While pythons have been known to kill alligators, it has not been determined how often this occurs. Preliminary anecdotal evidence would tend to suggest that the two giant reptiles are pretty much evenly matched.
For example, back in 2005 a python in Everglades National Park literally burst a gut and died after devouring an alligator. (See photo above.) Since the snake was discovered sans its head, however, other biologists theorize that it was not the large meal that killed it but rather a second alligator. (See National Geographic, September 5, 2006, "Python Bursts after Eating Gator.")
Another tussle that occurred between the two behemoths in Everglades National Park back in 2005 and was captured on film appears to have ended in a stalemate. (See photo below.)
The snakes' eradication cannot be justified on grounds of public safety either because, unlike pet pythons, those living in the remote Everglades are not a threat to individuals. "This is not a public safety issue at all," Heflick told the CBC. "These snakes want to stay away from people. They want to hide. They want to be left alone and do their own thing."
Nevertheless, the FFWCC cannot get rid of the snakes fast enough. On August 29th it declared open season on them by authorizing licensed hunters to kill them with bows and arrows and muzzleloaders in, inter alia, the Francis S. Taylor, Holey Land, and Rotenberger wildlife management areas as well as the Everglades and Big Cypress National Preserve. At the same time, the FFWCC put out contracts on the heads of Indian, reticulated, African rock, and amethystine pythons in addition to green anacondas and Nile monitor lizards. (See FFWCC press release of September 2, 2009 entitled "Burmese Python Permit Program.")
This mass eradication also may be superfluous in that tests conducted on two-dozen Burmese pythons captured and killed in Everglades National Park revealed high levels of mercury in their corpses. If the Everglades and surrounding areas are that contaminated it is unlikely that any form of wildlife is going to be able to survive there for very long and instead of killing off the snakes officials should be concentrating their efforts on removing mercury and other harmful chemicals from the environment.
Furthermore, it is a red herring to claim that the snakes do not have any natural predators in south Florida and therefore will multiply exponentially if not checked. "There's alligators, hawks, owls, bobcats, coyotes, (and) just about anything else that eats other animals will eat pythons," the FFWCC's Gary Morse told the Naples Daily News on August 21st. (See "Open Season on Pythons: Licensed Hunters Allowed to Shoot on Sight in Specific Areas.") "When they're small, the percentage of predation is likely quite high, as it is with all snakes."
Once again the absurd policies pursued by wildlife biologists, breeders, and politicians are at war with both morality and common sense. To summarize the dreadful situation in a nutshell, pythons living in the Everglades and not harming anyone or any species are being demonized and systematically slaughtered while pet pythons are being welcomed into cities where they are allowed to kill cats and children with impunity.
Corrupt agendas and warped moralities of this sort are nothing new as far as wildlife biologists are concerned. For example, the USFWS and its designated death squad, the USDA's Wildlife Services, exterminate approximately eighty-seven-thousand coyotes each year in the countryside at the request of farmers, ranchers, and other economic interests while they simultaneously maintain that those which escape the hangman should be allowed to live in urban areas where they kill cats. (See Cat Defender post of October 2, 2006 entitled "Coyotes, Cheered on by Wildlife Officials, Join Raccoons in Killing Cats and Dogs in Washington State.")
The USFWS also has reintroduced fishers to the crowded northeast so that they can not only provide a source of income for fur traffickers but also kill cats. (See Cat Defender posts of July 19, 2007 and August 28, 2007 entitled, respectively, "Up to Their Old Tricks, Wildlife Officials Reintroduce Fishers to the Northeast to Prey Upon Cats and to Provide Income for Fur Traffickers" and "TNR Programs, Domestic Cats, Dogs, and Humans Imperiled by Wildlife Proponents Use and Abuse of Coyotes and Fishers.")
The authority to determine which species are going to be allowed to live and under what circumstances is an awesome responsibility that should not belong to any man or governmental entity. Compounding this outrageous situation even further is the fact that such authority currently resides in the hands of those individuals, groups, and governmental agencies that are the least qualified to make such momentous decisions.
Although they sometimes like to dress up their egregious crimes in the august name of science, the truth of the matter is that wildlife biologists spend half of their time pimping and whoring for various economic concerns and the other half killing off animals that they simply do not like.
About the only good known to have come out of the python eradication effort is that it has debunked the myth that irresponsible owners are responsible for releasing the snakes into the Everglades and surrounding areas. Although there are still some stubborn holdouts, such as the FFWCC, Los Angeles Times, Naples Daily News, and National Geographic, who persist in perpetuating this fairy tale, Heflick lays the blame for that fiasco squarely upon the shoulders of irresponsible python breeders and the Miami Metro Zoo with a big assist going to Hurricane Andrew of 1992.
"Genetic data from the study that they did actually indicates that Hurricane Andrew was the source as well the genetics would indicate that they came from a very small founding population and that would hold true for the Hurricane Andrew scenario," he told the CBC. "If the population came primarily from pet owners you would see the gene pool that came from three or four countries of origin."
Graziani is in full agreement with that analysis. "There has not been a single documented case where they've actually caught anybody releasing snakes," he added in his interview with Living on Earth. Ironically, as a breeder, it is conceivable that he now could be killing some of the same snakes that escaped from his hatchery.
In a clear-cut case of locking the barn door after the horse has escaped, Bill Nelson of Florida last February introduced a bill in the United States Senate that would ban the importation of Burmese pythons. Even if their importation could be interdicted, it is unlikely that would have much of an impact upon established breeders who are going to continue to churn out pythons.
Once again, the intelligent modus operandi would be to target breeders and zoos instead of killing pythons, but that would substantially reduce the profits of the former and snake killers alike and in America that is verboten. So, in the end, the pythons lose all the way around.
Shanghaied out of their natural, albeit poacher-plagued, habitats, they next are horribly abused by breeders and pet shops. Once sold as pets, they often become obese and therefore too large to keep and too expensive to feed.
Once they wind up on their own in a strange land, wildlife biologists brand them as an invasive species and place bounties on their heads. That is in spite of the salient fact that if they were born in this country they cannot possibly be an invasive species.
The final indignity comes courtesy of the highbrows in academia, museums, and zoos who traffic in their remains as if they were little more than credit default swaps while simultaneously denying them even the decent burials that all living creatures deserve.
Nothing contained in this long digression into the plight of Burmese pythons does anything to either help poor Wilbur or to lessen the horrors that he must have experienced during the final moments of his life. Nor can it in any way alleviate the pain that the Wadeys no doubt are still experiencing.
"Some might not understand the fuss being made over a dead cat, but he was our cat and we loved him dearly. He was a part of our family, as any cat owner will understand," they wrote recently on their web site. "He was beautiful, strong, soft, had a purr like a dynamo and was a miracle of fluffy nature. We miss him desperately and losing him in this way has been devastating for us; our home has not been the same since he was so brutally taken away from us."
Anyone who has ever loved a cat can readily not only identify with the Wadeys' grief but cringe at the very thought of Wilbur's sad fate.
Photos: Moggies (Wilbur), BBC (Wadeys), Peter Wallis of the Herald Sun of Melbourne (Butterworth and Tuffy), Florida Museum of Natural History (python cut open), Robert Duyos of the South Florida Sun Sentinel (Fobb), David Albers of the Naples Daily News (Heflick), South Florida Natural Resources Center (exploding python), and Lori Oberhofer of the National Park Service (python and alligator fighting).