Humanity’s fascination with snakes dates back to biblical times and emotions remain a mix of awe, fear, curiosity and excitement. It is with a great sense of pride that Australians love to tout the statistic that nine out of the most 10 deadly snakes are native to Australia. To say this is to miss quote the statistic. Indeed the venom of the snakes has proved to be incredibly toxic, but Australia has nothing like the number of deaths per head of population suffered by many African countries or even India. Australia’s venomous snakes are more likely to run from a fight an attack, their fangs, in general, are not particularly long at least half the time bite without injecting venom. Indian vipers on the other hand extremely long fangs, can be very aggressive and inject huge amounts of venom.

Not for one moment, however, are we advocating the taipan is a suitable pet for 8-year-old Johnny. Indeed only the most experienced of snake handlers should contemplate keeping poisonous snakes. If you are interested in keeping a snake in Australia the most commonly kept snakes are children’s or carpet pythons, though other pythons are also kept by reptile enthusiasts.

Australia has strict laws on the importation of snakes. You will find it virtually impossible to import foreign snakes for the purposes of keeping them in your home or your enjoyment. There is a good reason for this, Australia has a long history of reckless importation of exotic species – a plague of rabbits is bad enough, a plague of King Cobras would be a disaster. In the USA where the importation of python breeds such as the Burmese python which can grow to 6 m or more in length they now faced with a plague of these reptiles in places like the Everglades where they are now at the very top of the food chain. Specimens have been found with adult alligators in their bellies.

That said the keeping of a python as a pet can be fascinating and exciting. If you are contemplating becoming a snake person, consider the following: –

  • You may not take any wild reptile in Australia into captivity, you may only source your snake to a registered snake breeder. Expect to pay at least $250 for a small snake in every thousand dollars for a large snake.
  • You will require a reptile keepers licence to keep a snake, these are available in all states except Western Australia and Tasmania (at the time of writing this article April 2011)
  • Snakes are not cats, they do not “like” to be handled, though a captive bred snake that is being handled all its life will likely find handling acceptable. Handling should be done carefully with proper support given under the belly of the snake. Don’t handle your snake to the first week after receiving it will likely be stressed and may react unpredictably. If you do intend to handle your snake do so two or three times a week to ensure its use to the experience. Never sneak up on your snake before picking it up ensure it is aware of your presence. Ensure your hands are clean – it would be incredibly foolhardy to go from handling feeder rats to picking up your snake they most definitely will be to detect that there is a rat nearby, your hands being about the same size as a rat!
  • The snake will spend most of its time doing very little. They are certainly not very active animals.
  • Most novice snake handlers imagine a daily exciting experience of feeding a live animal to the snake, which the snake stalks constricts and then eats. In reality, the snake is not going to need to eat more than once a week, once a fortnight may well be enough. Captive-bred pythons were being trained to eat defrosted rats. There is a good reason for this, prey animals of any kind do not go down without a fight. What would appear to be a superficial bite your snake receives from feeder rats could become infected and lead to the death of the python. Overfeeding your python will lead to obesity and health problems. The more you feed your python the more it will poo meaning more work for you.
  • Your python will need to be kept in a secure enclosure. A fish tank with a glass top lid will not suffice as it will soon escape. Your python enclosure should be securable and lockable.
  • As with all reptiles, pythons are cold-blooded so you will be responsible for maintaining an environment as similar as possible to their natural environment. Heating lamps, basking rocks, an area for them to hide, a perch for them to wrap around and a fresh, clean water supply.
  • Children over the age of 10 are permitted to keep items as pets, but bear in mind your average python is going to live to 25 to 30 years. A captive-bred python cannot simply go into the wild would at some point when their children leave home. You would be left to care for their python or need to re-home it.
  • The local vet may be inexperienced when it comes to python healthcare – but on the upside, pythons tend to suffer from very few illnesses.

If you are interested in owning a python, we suggest you join one of the python owning forums such as speak to some real experts. Don’t rush in and buy a python unless you feel you are very committed to having one.