September 29, 2011

Brady's Epic Python Encounter

Brady's Bad Bite: In His Own Words

It was day three for our team in a snake cave on an island in Indonesia. On the previous two days we had seen many pythons, but all small, so we weren't expecting to see anything unexpected on day three. We were only going in to get some pick-up shots and move to the next filming location.

The cave was literally a chamber of horrors, probably the worst place I have worked in the ten years I have been at Geographic. The cave was filled with the usual customers (scorpions, roaches, maggots, spiders, millions of bats, lizards, and snakes), but it was the unbelievable amount of bat guano that made it unbearable. There were places where you had to wade through chest-deep liquefied bat guano. The stuff was like quicksand, almost sucking you down and making progress very slow and cautious. This bat guano soup along with low oxygen levels eventually prevented our expedition from going deeper into the cave.
The head of a reticulated python resting in a tree

On day three, about 200 feet (60 meters) into the cave, walking along the right-side wall where the fecal soup was the shallowest, I spied a large python partially exposed in a crack in the left wall, on the opposite side of the cave across the deepest part of the fecal river.

[With cameras rolling] I frantically waded across the middle deepest portion of the fecal river (waist deep on me) and to the other side of the cave, where I was successful in grabbing the last few feet of the snake’s tail before it escaped into the wall.

By this time Dr. Mark Auliya, a python expert working with me on this project, arrived to assist me in pulling this large snake out of the wall. I handed over the tail to Mark while I attempted to free more of the large snake’s body from the crevice as Mark pulled.

After a brief power struggle, the python popped out of the crack in a blur of coils and quickly started to wrap us up. In the waist-deep fecal soup, the darkness of the cave and myriad of coils, it was difficult to locate the head, which was our major concern. With Mark still holding the tail, the big snake wrapped its powerful coils around Mark's body once and around both of my legs down low at least once, and maybe two coils. The snake’s head was horrifyingly all over the place, popping in and out of the fecal soup and making securing it almost impossible. Before we could formulate a plan to get out of the quicksand-like fecal soup, where drowning was a serious issue while trying to subdue a giant snake, it bit me.

I felt the snake attach to my leg right below my left buttock, which sent me literally through the roof with pain. These guys are armed with dozens of strongly recurved razor-sharp teeth. After securing its hold, it threw the weight and power of its muscular body into the bite and started ripping downward. The power of these snakes is beyond comprehension ... remember, they are constrictors, and power is the name of their game.

Since the bite was occurring underwater, no one but me really knew what was occurring, and I was in such indescribable pain I couldn't convey much information, other than guttural screams. I was so completely incapacitated by the pain I couldn't even attempt to remove the snake from my leg. I was terrified that the snake was going to pull me off my feet with its coils around my legs and drag me underwater, yet after what seemed like an eternity the snake released its bite yet continued to hold me with its coils. It most likely needed to get a breath of air, since the bite occurred under the water. After letting the team know that it released its bite, we still could not locate the head after frantic searching.

This was the time I was most concerned, and without doubt one of the scariest moments I have ever been a part of, because the horror of taking another bite was simply overwhelming. I really did not think that I could remain conscious if I took another bad bite, and I knew that another bite was coming for someone if we didn't secure the head.

Prayers answered—the snake relinquished some of its coils, and I finally spotted the head at the surface of the water a long way away. Mark quickly dragged the snake to the opposite side of the cave, the shallow side, and I threw a bag over its eyes and quickly secured the head. We immediately placed the large snake into a capture bag, and then Mark inspected my wounds. They were bad; it was a horrific bite.

They have so many teeth that produce these deep ripping wounds, it's excruciating if you are on the receiving end. When the team discovered how severe the injuries were, we immediately exited the cave and cleaned the wound. Infection was really the biggest concern. Snake bites are always bad because they have such unclean mouths, but to receive a bite in a cave environment in a liquefied slurry of bat feces simply has to be the absolute worst of all septic situations. We were in a very remote area, so I had to hike out many kilometers to our truck.

The entire sequence was filmed. It is chilling footage to watch. It was an epic snake capture, one to go down in the history books.

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