Spatial ecology of the reticulated python


The challenge

Although Singapore has a predominantly urban landscape, the reticulated python – which holds the record for being the world’s longest snake – is one of the most frequently encountered snakes on the island. It is often found in residential compounds and industrial warehouses.

When members of the public find a snake in their homes, they typically get in touch with agencies such as the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA), the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (ACRES) or the Singapore Police Force. These agencies respond to calls from the public and bring captured pythons to Singapore Zoo.

Since 2006, the zoo has been conducting a “mark-and-release” project with these rescued pythons. To date, this programme has involved Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS), National Parks Board (NPARKS), ACRES and National University of Singapore (NUS).

The snakes when brought into the zoo undergo a physical check, get microchipped and placed in temporary holding before their subsequent release. While capture and release information is recorded, little is otherwise known about their movement patterns in the wild.

The goal

Observe the adventure of pythons

Although reticulated pythons are frequently found as road kill, anecdotal observations seem to suggest that they are primarily utilising the underground network of drains and monsoon canals rather than crossing busy ground surfaces.

Using radio- and GPS-telemetry, this study conducted by Mary-Ruth Low investigated, firstly, aspects of their spatial ecology such as home range, habitat use, average daily movement rate, and secondly, their homing ability, as exhibited in some of the recaptured individuals found at their initial capture site despite being translocated over large distances.

Our role

WRS receives approximately 40 to 50 pythons from around the island each month, as well as individuals found within Singapore Zoo.

Each individual snake is measured, weighed and marked with a passive inductive transponder (PIT) tag prior to release in secondary forest or wasteland, away from densely populated human areas.

From 2013 to 2016, WRS supported Ms. Low’s field research efforts to use radio- GPS-telemetry to investigate aspects of the pythons’ spatial ecology and their homing ability despite being translocated many kilometres away.

The outcome

Crawling out of forests

28 individuals were radio-tracked from February 2014 to February 2016. Approximately 60 per cent of these snakes moved out of secondary forests into the forest edge and urban areas, including areas such as HDB car parks and town parks.

The overall mortality rate was 14 per cent, possibly due to stress and road-related mortality. Findings from this study are currently being written up for publication.

This research provides information on the movement patterns and survival of translocated reticulated pythons in Singapore. This information will be useful for governmental and non-governmental agencies in making informed management decisions for these reptiles.

The information will also act as a baseline to examine the significance of the species’ role in urban pest control and disease ecology. Simultaneously, this research will help substantiate educational and outreach events of the reticulated python’s role in our ecosystem, in order to change people’s perception that they are “harmful pests”, but are rather “useful rat control”.

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