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Wildlife expert captures 14-foot python in East Manatee pipe

EAST MANATEE — A local wildlife expert crawled into a two-foot-wide drainage pipe and, after an hour and a half struggle, dragged out a 14-foot Burmese python Saturday afternoon.

Justin Matthews said the snake was so angry at being messed with that he had to bang its head to subdue it. Matthews’ son and four firefighters stood by to assist, and motorists on 33rd Street East, who stopped to see what all the activity was about, were told to stay back because of the danger.

Wearing his trademark straw cowboy hat and covered in mud as he emerged from the concrete pipe, Matthews said he’d had to crawl about 15 feet into the concrete pipe to engage the hissing python. He said the snake, bloodied on the head, might be too dangerous to use for education, so he might have to euthanize it.

Matthews is executive director of Matthews Wildlife Rescue, a non-profit that saves and nurses wild animals, and uses them to teach others about nature.

He and the firefighters from Southern Manatee Fire Rescue stretched the unhappy python and measured it at about 14 feet.

The location of the capture was near the intersection of 33rd Street East and 53rd Avenue East, within sight of a Sweetbay Supermarket and in the neighborhood of a Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club on State Road 70 in East Manatee County.

Matthews said he had been tracking the python for some time, and he had focused when, two weeks ago, the state of Florida approved the hunting of the invasive snakes that in many cases have been illegally freed by pet owners.