The tropical rainforests of the island of Sumatra in Indonesia represent a veritable “Garden of Eden.” Millions of verdant acres of lush jungle remain untouched, providing habitats for thousands of plant and animal species. As with Eden, these pristine natural landscapes hide a dangerous serpent — the reticulated python.
Unlike the story of Adam and Eve, however, reticulated pythons don’t talk, and they’re not especially interested in tempting people with fruit. But that doesn’t make them any less formidable.
Instead, they squeeze their prey to death before swallowing meals whole. Although most rely on a diet of birds, small mammals, and wild pigs, the largest sometimes develop a penchant for human flesh. Keep reading to learn more about the latest case of a human devoured by this deceptively beautiful yet deadly reptile.
GRANDMOTHER MISSING IN INDONESIA
On October 23, 2022, Jahrah, a 54-year-old grandmother and rubber tapper, was reported missing by her family. She lived in the Jambi province and had gone to work on a rubber plantation that morning, never returning home. By evening, her family’s concern magnified.
Her husband headed out in search of her. Eventually, he discovered ominous clues: a cache of her belongings left at the plantation. The items included her headscarf, sandals, jacket, and rubber tapping tools. Locals quickly organized a search party to look for her, but to no avail. As darkness shrouded the landscape, they were forced to suspend the search for the night.
After all, the jungles of Sumatra contain powerful predators, like the Sumatran tiger. Although critically endangered, these big cats have been known to maul or kill human beings, a clear deterrent to nighttime expeditions on the island.
A GRUESOME FIND SOLVES THE MYSTERY
The following morning, the search party headed out to look for indications of what had happened to Jahrah. What they discovered, near the spot where her belongings lay the day before, left little hope (or doubt) in their minds.
“The security team and residents conducted a search around the rubber plantation, then we found a python seven metres (22.9 feet) long,” explains Chief of Police AKP S Harefa. Continuing, he notes, “It is this snake that is suspected of preying on the victim. After we caught him, we found the victim’s body in the snake’s stomach.” Jahrah’s remains were largely intact.
Death by snake doesn’t typically come in the form of constriction and consumption. Snake bites prove far more frequent, with an estimated 5.4 million per year. Of these bites, the World Health Organization reports that roughly two to three million lead to envenoming, and between 81,000 to 138,000 cases end in death.
RARE, BUT NOT UNPRECEDENTED
Jahrah’s sad fate is rare. But it’s by no means without precedent. On the island of Sulawesi, a farmer’s body was discovered in the suspicious bulge of a python’s belly in 2017. And in 2018, a woman on the island of Muna met a similar fate.
Although reticulated pythons typically subsist on small- to medium-sized mammals like rats, scientists have observed something unique and terrifying about the largest ones.
“Once they reach a certain size, it’s almost like they don’t bother with rats anymore because the calories are not worth it,” reports Conservation and Research Officer Mary-Ruth Low, of the Mandai Wildlife Group. Even more alarming, Low notes, “They can go as large as their prey goes.” This means pigs, cows, and even human beings become fair game. Here’s more on the jaw mechanics that makes this possible.
HUNTER BECOMES THE HUNTED
That said, sometimes the tables get turned on these massive reptiles. In 2017, Robert Nababan killed a 26-foot-long python in Sumatra’s Batang Gansal district along a plantation road. Nababan sustained serious injuries during the assault from the serpent, but fortunately, a group of local villagers helped him escape the tragic fate met by Jahrah.
In the aftermath of the attack, the python was butchered, fried, and eaten by members of the village in a total reversal of fortunes.