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Handling Large Constrictors
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Handling Large Retics:

Interacting with adult Retics can be challenging and rewarding all at the same time.  Because they vary so much as they’re maturing, it is difficult to give an arbitrary size that should be the cut off for working alone.  For instance, a 14-foot female could weigh 45 pounds or 75 pounds.  Either animal would be capable of doing you harm, but much more so in the case of the heavier girl.  

Any snake measuring over 13 or 14 feet should probably be worked with a partner.  Someone that has large snake experience would be an obvious benefit, but even someone with no experience watching your back is safer than working alone.  You should always mention to your “spotter” a few things.  If a snake actually wraps you up in an attempt to constrict you, it is always best to unwrap the snake starting from the tail.  Trying to pull coils off in its mid section or trying to push coils to the side in an attempt to pry off the head would likely be futile.  It is a good idea to keep a spray bottle of alcohol such as vodka handy.  Sometimes simply spraying an alcoholic substance in the snake’s mouth will cause them to release their bite.  As with any medical emergency, the victim’s airway and breathing status should always be the first priority.   Stopping the snake from constricting a person’s chest, neck or head is much more important than stopping a bite to an arm or leg.  Dialing 911 is of course a good idea, but you have to remember that A. seconds count if someone is being constricted and B. keeping large snakes is a specialized area of expertise.  Paramedics aren’t trained in removing 19-foot retics from people.  It is your responsibility to know what to do, and have your back up know what to do too.  

We believe in “hook training” all of our snakes.  It is understandably common for snakes to associate the opening of their cage with being fed.   By simply tapping the snake on the head while opening the cage door when you are not feeding, you condition the snake that this is not a feeding time.  They begin to associate being tapped with a hook with being removed from their enclosure for cleaning or exercise.  It is imperative that you do not hook tap your snakes when feeding, because this will cancel out the conditioning that you’ve initiated.  

Even though adult retics are very powerful animals, they are delicate as well.  If at all possible, avoid grabbing your retic behind it’s head.  It is sometimes necessary, and in such a case it is best to handle the animals with a partner.  One of you will grab it behind its head and hold one hand slightly behind its head with the other hand a few inches behind the first one.  The second hand further down the neck will prevent it from slipping backwards.  The reason for not holding it at the base of the skull is because the snake will be less likely to damage its vertebrae in the struggle.  

Personally we have had several large, flighty Retics come through our hands and we used to always grab their heads and wrestle them when we needed to move them.  But, we discovered that this only made the process worse for next time.  It only caused the animals to fear us and anticipate the struggle, causing a vicious circle.  In many cases simply using a hook to keep the animals head away from you and gently pulling the animal by its mid-section works wonders.  Always avoid sudden movements when working with a nervous retic.  It only contributes to their fear.

When you use your hook, keep in mind that you won’t be hooking an adult retic the same way that you’d hook a colubrid or a venomous snake.  You won’t be lifting any of the animals weight with the hook.  When working with large snakes, the purpose of the hook is to have something between you and their head when necessary.  We often use the hook to tap their head upon opening the cage and to push their head away a couple times, and then drop the hook in order to use both hands to pick up the heavy snake.  You will find your own style.  Using your foot to gently push the snake’s head away if it is on the floor or in a low cage is useful in a pinch as well.

We always have a heavy-duty trash can on hand with air holes in the lid for temporary housing and/or soaking while we clean their permanent enclosure.  Be careful when putting your large Retic into the trashcan as not to hurt it.  It is easy to get used to “man handling” your large Retic, but keep in mind that if you put your snake in a can head first, that their substantial weight will be suddenly on their neck and head.  Put them in as gently as you can.  

We use a nolvasan or chlorhexaderm solution for cleaning because it is safer for the snakes.  We use aspen shavings or cypress mulch.  Pine, cedar and other hard wood shavings can be toxic to your snake.  In fact, don’t even keep feeder rodents on it.  

It is optimal to allow any snake exercise if it is comfortable with it’s environment, but even more so with Retics.  They are much more active than other heavy bodied snakes.  Even large females will readily climb.  Keeping control of your Retic and knowing your surroundings is key.  If a large Retic gets under your cages or up in your exposed pipes you will have a very hard time getting it out.  

Be careful whom you tell about your gentle giant.  Not everyone will take your word for it that your 15-foot female python is “nice” and not everyone will appreciate your feeding it rabbits either.  While it is necessary to feed predatory animals prey items, please show them respect and remember that these animals died to feed your pet.  It is an important role in the food chain and should be appreciated.  

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