Fabled python Omieri back in limelight with exhibition

Thursday November 30 2017

A Lady looks at the African Rock Python

A Lady looks at the African Rock Python popularly known as Omieri at the National Museums of Kenya on November 30,2017.The Python died in 1987 and is preserved at the Museum. PHOTO | EVANS HABIL | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By COLLINS OMULO
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The gigantic African rock python christened Omieri, which died more than 30 years ago, is set to be unveiled for exhibition to the public at the Nairobi Snake Park on Thursday.

The legendary snake hailed from Nyakach in Kisumu County, where it was rescued.

It will once again be open for public viewing at the Nairobi National Museum, where it had been preserved since it hogged the limelight in 1987 after it was burnt by bush fire.

SHINY COMPLEXION

As it lies on a transparent cubic glass tank filled with industrial methylated alcohol almost to the three-quarter mark, resting on a pedestal almost a metre from the ground, Omieri has, however, lost the distinct dark and shiny complexion of its heyday. It is dark with white spots and scales on all parts of the peeling carcass.

The python, which is coiled with parts of its body close to the head up above the preservative, is now a pale shadow of the enormous reptile that weighed over 75 kilogrammes, although the carcass still bears the burn scars from three decades ago.

“We will put up a text that will tell people about the snake’s history from the point it was discovered to the point it died,” said Mr Albert Otieno, a senior curator at the snake park. “We have stories about it, newspaper cuttings and memoirs.

“We were looking for a postmortem examination report but did not get it because when it died we never got it, and so we are not sure where it is. Moreover, there is a condolence book that was signed but we cannot also find it.”

TREATMENT

Mr Otieno said the huge python was taken to the museum for treatment in April 1987 by Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) officers.

It was, however, returned to Kisumu Museum because Nyakach residents claimed its absence had brought them misfortune.
“It was returned to Kisumu Museum, where for a period of time it was not treated, and for fear that it would die, it was brought back here, but it died later, in July 1987,” said Mr Otieno.

He said the fabled serpent was 16-foot long at the time of its death but has probably lost two to three feet while under preservation, where it is immersed in 70 per cent alcohol to stop it from decomposing.

“The moment it dies, what you do is, you make a slit in the lower abdomen and remove the intestines,” Mr Otieno explained. “The slit also allows for the industrial methylated alcohol to sip into the tissues of the animal.

“The normal one that we buy is 94 per cent but we dilute it up to 70 per cent, which is sufficient to preserve any living organism for a period of time as long as it does not come to the surface, which might expose it, leading it to decompose.”

SNAKE HANDLER

According to Mr Elija Kioko, a snake handler at the snake park, a python can grow to between 5.5 metres and 9.8 metres and it darkens with age, with adults being almost black.

He said the huge thicket snake has a sub-triangular head and kills its food, mostly mammals, by constricting them.

“We have three of such pythons here, which we give 50 rabbits every week,” said Mr Kioko. “A huge one can eat three goats at once but that will take it between three and six months without eating again.”

He added that the snake, which is mostly found in areas around Lake Victoria, Malindi, western Kenya and Mwingi (Kitui), has a cultural attachment with residents believing that it is a good omen, especially to women, for whom it improves fertility.

“This snake commands huge respect among the Nyakach people, who believe its appearance portends arrival of heavy rains and a good harvest and that when a woman sees it her fertility is boosted and if it is killed then rain will not fall,” said Mr Kioko.


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