Snakes in the metro

Photo: Christian Mehlführer, Creative Commons 2.5

The incident happened in Prague's metro system, on the 'C' line. To be more specific, when the news hit the wires one Monday morning earlier this month, HE was already out there since Sunday, when the irresponsible pet owner forgot his slithering friend in the train wagon and exited the metro at Museum station.

Photo: Christian Mehlführer,  Creative Commons 2.5
I was at my desk when I first heard my colleague say, "Listen to this: there's a two meter snake in the metro!" Nothing could have caught my attention faster, for I'm afraid of snakes. They scare me and I have no desire to come into close contact with these creatures. Ever. Never mind the thought of being inside a speeding metro train and spotting a two meter boa constrictor on the floor. Needless to say, this news of Mr. Snake on the loose somewhere out there wasn't pleasing. I wasn't the only one who vowed not to take the metro until they'd located the boa.

Although they waited a day to tell the public, authorities did try and convince us that the boa constrictor posed no danger to people. Apparently they only become dangerous once they're 4.5 meters long, and this 'baby' measured only two meters. An expert from the Prague Zoo then tried to convince people that the snake wouldn't survive if he stayed in the metro system, that he wouldn't be able to adapt underground and would die as soon as the temperature dipped below zero. Given that it's only September and it's been rather warm, I wasn't feeling terribly reassured by these scientific facts.

Despite the fact that I don't understand how one forgets a two meter snake in a backpack in the metro, I have to give this pet owner credit for one thing: he reported his missing buddy as soon as he realized the mistake. OK. But this recent incident only served to reinforce a point that has been an issue in this country for some years now: the irresponsibility of people who acquire exotic animals as pets. I know of another snake—this one residing in Mlada Boleslav—who escaped from the aquarium he'd probably outgrown, and while out for an unsupervised 'walk' he decided to explore the neighbour's place. It was easy because he lived in a communist-built block of flats, the infamous 'panelaky' where the inter-connected pipes gave him easy access to the neighbour's dwelling: in this case, the bathtub drain served as a staircase.

Accidents happen, but no one needs to encounter a dangerous wild animal in the metro, or in their apartment. Unfortunately, the laws in this country do very little to punish people whose exotic, imported pets decide to make a break for it—or are abandoned by their owners. The worst cases are those where pet owners abandon an animal (snakes, monkeys, tigers) because it's grown and they realize that they can't handle such a demanding pet.

The recent 'snake in the metro' story did have a particularly good ending: the backpack was lifted by someone riding the 'C' metro. Instead of turning the bag into the metro's lost and found service, this guy took the backpack home thinking he'd landed a treasure, maybe even come into some money. When he discovered the real slithery treasure, he got so scared that he called the police! So there's a double happy ending: the Boa is back with his owner, and a petty thief got what he deserved. Now I only hope that the pet owner has learned that taking his snake on trips is not appropriate.