The Independent London Newspaper



Aesculapian snakes alive and well here in Westminster

Aesculapian snake

Journal’s colony claim – but how did they get here?

Published: 16 March, 2012

A HARMLESS species of arboreal snake that bizarrely established a breeding colony on the fringes of Regent’s Park has been written about in a scientific journal for ecologists.

A paper about invasive species of reptile and amphibian living in London appears in latest issue of academic publication The London Naturalist.

Dozens have apparently been found in the capital, many of them brought to the city as part of the exotic pet trade and released by callous owners, but few if any others have managed to survive for long periods in our cool and unfamiliar ­climate, let alone breed.

It is for this reason that Westminster’s colony of aesculapian snakes, which experts say thrive on the banks of the Regent’s Canal, is considered significant, although mystery surrounds how the creatures, which are native to the former Yugoslavia, found their way there.

According to the paper, one theory is that snakes kept at a now defunct Inner London Education Authority facility for scientific experiments were released “on the quiet” in the 1980s.

According to the paper, the feral population was first described in 1998 by a head keeper of reptiles in London Zoo.

It also states: “Several newly born snakes were found in the basement of a building around 30 metres from the embankment in 2010, and breeding in that year was also shown in 2011 with a young 2010 cohort snake being located. To this date this is the only example of a non-native snake species breeding successfully and forming populations in the wild in London and the UK as a whole.”

Fragments of juvenile aesculapian snakes have also apparently been found in bird aviaries close to the canal.

However, nearby residents need not fear. Not only are the creatures completely harmless to humans, unusually for
a non-native species they are not thought to do damage to the eco-system.

The snakes are believed to survive by feeding on rodents and possibly small birds.


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