In the wee hours of Wednesday morning, a deathly struggle waged in a "bedroom" of the pheasant breeding centre here. A tenacious rock python was able to penetrate the wire-meshed enclosures and steal upon a pair of red jungle fowls roosting in a secluded chamber.
The couple was strangled to death by the python. However, when it tried to gobble the fowls, the juvenile python's size prevented it from relishing its hard-won feast.
At 8 am, when the cleaning staff led by Sundar entered the cage, they found the sulking serpent in a corner with the two kills lying adjacent. The python was no more than three-four months old. The remaining jungle fowls in the enclosure were immediately removed and snake-rescue expert Salim Khan summoned.
When Khan arrived, more drama ensued. Looking at the relatively small size of the python and its sluggish posture in the corner, Khan thought it was going to be "easy meat" for him. However, when he prodded the python with a bamboo stick and tried to pin down the neck, the python was having none of it.
The python lunged for Khan with its razor-sharp teeth, which are not loaded with venom but are infested with bacteria. Khan evaded the sudden attack and a duel ensued in the dark corner before Khan finally got the better of the python by quickly grabbing its neck. As a parting shot, the python plastered Khan with a generous dose of the most foul-smelling anal discharge!
The python was bundled into an empty gunny bag of poultry feed and placed in the car for release in the jungles. As luck would have it, the spirited python found a hole in the bag, widened it, slithered out and took refuge under the front seat. After the car was brought to a screeching halt and much commotion followed, Khan was able to again corner his adversary. The python was safely released in a thickly-wooded culvert in the Morni hills.
A much larger python had infiltrated the centre's defences two weeks ago and had killed and ingested a jungle fowl before it was discovered and removed. Cobras normally gobble jungle fowl eggs but sometimes inflict mortal bites on hens that object!
Though the enclosures are tightly meshed, rodent holes allow cobras ingress. The breeding centre is situated amidst thick jungles with swarming undergrowth that teems with reptiles. The centre holds 110 red jungle fowls and half-a-dozen Kaleej pheasants. Domesticated hens assist as brooders for eggs of the jungle fowls.
According to Dr S Sathyakumar, a scientist and authority on pheasant species at the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun, the "wild population of jungle fowls at the Morni Hills is genetically pure, embodies tremendous genetic diversity and does not suffer from inter-breeding with 'desi murgis' kept in villages adjoining jungles.