For almost two months, Poland has been in the midst of a captivating man – er, snake – hunt. Nicknamed Bertha, a nearly 18-foot-long python has been slithering through the Polish summertime, inciting hysteria, sparking headlines, and even the deployment of government resources.
It all started on July 7, when Animal Rescue Poland (ARP) received reports of a 2-meter-long (7 feet) shed snakeskin near the Vistula River, just south of Warsaw. A little while later, animal rescue crews discovered a second 5-meter-long (16-feet) piece of skin measuring 50 centimeters (19 inches around). The molted skin was identified as belonging to an Indian python (Python molurus molurus) and, when accounting for its head, could be as long as 20 feet.
At the time, the agency said the python would have been hungry and irritable – we would be too if we just shed our outer lining. Residents were told to avoid walking and sleeping near the river while authorities pursued Bertha’s foot – er, belly – prints.
The pursuit has since heated up and the snake-on-the-loose has sparked international attention. The government cleared airspace for four drones to scan the banks of the river. They were then joined by four boats and as many as 80 volunteers, police officers, and firefighters. More than 2,000 photographs have been taken and studied by wildlife officials hoping to identify the mysterious reptile. Even a dog named Koka (Polish for Cocaine) joined the searching ranks, using scent methods to detect where the snake had rested or swum.
Native to Sri Lanka, India, and the East Indies, Indian pythons eat prey live after stalking and ambushing them. Reaching weights up to 91 kilograms (200 pounds), the brutes kill by biting and constricting until their victim eventually suffocates. There are no records indicating an Indian python has ever eaten a human, but they have been known to swallow a deer whole.
A heatwave in July made the scare tactic all the more real. Bertha was more likely to be on the move, and people were more likely to be out with the nice weather. Now, nearly two months later, temperatures are cooling down and slowing down the snake with it. An established hotline has helped authorities catch three other exotic snakes on the run, while Koka has sniffed out fur-lined droppings, but Bertha still remains at-large. The sad truth is that if Bertha isn’t found before winter strikes, she most likely won’t make it another season to terrorize our imaginations for another time.