EAST MANATEE — His plan was to push the python out of a concrete pipe with a long 2-by-2. But then he had to crawl 15 feet or so into the two-foot-wide pipe to reach the snake. And then the snake turned back on him in the close quarters and struck.
At that point, wildlife expert Justin Matthews ordered his son out of the other end of the pipe. Brandon Matthews had grabbed its tail. Not a good idea. Too dangerous. The elder Matthews would handle it himself.
Now Matthews the younger, four firefighters and a growing group of spectators stood by and listened — more than an hour into the battle Saturday afternoon and within sight of a Sweetbay Supermarket and a day care center.
When the python’s hissing maw and spitting tongue reached four feet from Matthews, the stick became a weapon.
“I tried to get it to crawl out itself, but that wasn’t working,” Matthews said.
The owner of Matthews’ Wildlife Rescue, an animal care and educational company, the cowboy-hatted Matthews envisioned a specimen with which to teach people about nature and not to keep pythons as pets.
“I think this one had been there for years, living off Muscovy ducks in a nearby pond,” Matthews said.
As a wildlife expert and instructor, Matthews has permits to take pythons and other large reptiles.
He’d been hearing about this snake for months but had never seen it. A month ago, near the drainage pipe along 33rd Street at 51st Avenue East, he found a belly track. When he checked inside the pipe Saturday, there she was.
Yes she, he said.
“The females get a lot fatter and longer. I believe this will be the largest snake ever caught in Bradenton,” he said.
After the whack upside the head with the stick, the struggle went Matthews’ way. He and his son dragged it out without being bitten. It took six men to hold it down and measure it.
An unofficial 14 feet at the site, the snake went 14 feet, one and one half inches back home.
On Monday, Matthews will take it to Bayshore Animal Clinic to scan its body for a microchip.
“If it has one, there will be consequences for the former owner. If not, she’s mine to use in my classes,” he said.
Overnight Saturday, the python was kept in a large wooden enclosure with heavy duty wire and a door that locked.
“They’re escape artists,” he said.
Asked if there were more 14-foot Burmese pythons in Manatee County, Matthew said, “I hope not, but I believe there are.”