'I Was Attacked by a 12ft Python While Sleeping'

My husband and I and our two children live around 10 miles from the northernmost point of mainland Australia, Cape York. Our home is an off grid setup which consists of converted shipping containers, and the main living area between rooms is completely open to the outside. Our nearest neighbours more than 6 miles away, and the nearest community is 9 miles.

Over a period of more than 10 years, we have observed hundreds of snakes in our own backyard; mostly pythons and species from the colubrid family. There are some extremely dangerous species such as coastal taipans, and death adders, but we've never observed those in our yard, and only a handful of times in total in the area. Though we do have some local friends who actually won't come to our house because they know of some of our encounters and are afraid of being exposed to snakes.

Growing up I would say I had a "healthy fear" of snakes, but wouldn't be scared to touch a snake if it was presented by someone as a pet or exhibit. Essentially I'm someone who appreciates the beauty of the animal world when presented with it and I understand that we live in an environment where such creatures are naturally present.

In 2008, following a trip to Cape York where we observed a number of beautiful pythons in the wild, my husband obtained a recreational wildlife licence and purchased several different pythons over the following years. I certainly admired the individual animals and was involved in handling and feeding them from time to time.

A close friend of mine Daniel Natusch is a scientist and biodiversity expert who frequently tracked a particular 12 foot long, 10lb scrub python around our property in his role of lead researcher in a study tracking around 20 snakes in the area. He and I spoke almost daily and we knew the python had for many months been generally within a few hundred metres of my home.

On March 9, 2014 Daniel had been struggling to get a clear signal from his tracking device implanted on the snake. The signal appeared to have been "bouncing" around due to interference from our shipping containers. He finally located it, and therefore the python, under the timber floor of our living area connecting two of our containers.

As this was far more intimate than just being "out in the yard" I did question whether our kids and dogs were at greater risk, and Daniel advised that while it was probably unlikely that it would attack either, it would be prudent to check the rooms before leaving the children to sleep and check the doors and windows were securely closed.

I believe in that conversation we talked about relocating the python, before acknowledging that it had been present around our yard for months since the implantation and tracking began, and perhaps for years before that.

I carefully checked the children were safe in their respective rooms, but I neglected to take the same care with my own room. I'd left the sliding screen doors of my room wide open all evening, and failed to inspect the room before closing myself in to sleep. I unwittingly locked the snake in my room with me that evening.

So in the early hours of March 10, I woke to the pain of a bite on my lower buttock. I simultaneously reached to the site of the bite with one hand, and for the light switch next to my bed with the other. I confirmed in the light what I suppose I was already registering, and made the decision to tear the snake's bite free before it had an opportunity to tangle me up with it's body.

Because of the large flat area it had bitten, it's mouth was open very wide, and in my haste to grab at the head some of my fingers were actually inside the python's jaw as I pulled it's bite free from the leg, causing minor lacerations to both the leg and my hand.

scrub python, python, snake, snake attack
Stock image of a scrub python in situ in Australia's Iron Range. Lea-Ann Mears was attacked by a scrub python in 2014. Getty/iStock

I'd been laying down while it's body had been flailing over my legs—perhaps in an attempt to get a hold of me as it would when capturing and suffocating prey. I was fully aware that this large snake was very capable of overpowering me if I allowed it to tangle me up and wrap itself around my neck.

Luckily, having handled many large pythons already as pets and as part of assisting researchers, I was able to quickly and safely remove the snake from my bed before it was able to wrap itself around me. My children were toddlers at the time and I do remember that I managed to barely make a sound during the incident, because I didn't want them to wake up. I moved the python into another sealed room, our kitchen, where I closed it inside and called my husband.

At that time, he was actually away performing a caretaker role on a nearby island. It was only a half a mile boat ride and a half hour drive, but relied on certain tides for the boat leg, so he was unable to come across for another several hours.

My husband called an ambulance to come and check on my wounds. Even though scrub python's aren't venomous, he wanted to ensure I hadn't overlooked any broken teeth in the wound or missed any nerve damage with all the adrenaline that came with the attack. He also told me that he would call Daniel to come to the house; Daniel arrived at my home within perhaps 30 minutes of the incident and captured the snake. He released it a short distance from the home after confirming its identity as part of the study.

My eldest son was the only one of the two kids who could have comprehended the situation, and I think from memory we probably kept it from him for some time to avoid making him fearful. Although he was obviously concerned, my husband did find my bite to the posterior amusing. We decided it wasn't necessary to make any changes to the living arrangement, beyond ensuring that the fly screen mesh is repaired if ever damaged.

However, some months later what we thought was the same snake successfully captured a puppy. We were able to unwrap it fairly quickly though, and managed to resuscitate the puppy with chest compressions. That snake was relocated but it was actually one of the other 20 or so in the study. Nonetheless, the original did in fact return and made another, albeit thwarted, attempt at getting a meal. This time on an adult hunting dog in our kennel beside the house, a 55lb catahoula leopard dog named Ninja.

pythons, snake attack, Australia, family
Lea-Ann Mears with her husband and children.  Lea-Ann Mears

Ninja was losing consciousness as we arrived at the kennel having been alerted by his yelp in the night, but as we were able to quickly unwrap him he regained consciousness unaided. This time, the snake was relocated even further away from us.

While there are some species of snake that can be easily misidentified, many of the local species have very distinct patterns that our children are able to easily recognize. We have also shown them how to unwrap and control pythons in case they are ever in such a situation and we have made plans with our children for what to do if ever bitten by a potentially venomous snake; staying still and as calm as possible, and calling or sending for help.

They executed this perfectly earlier this year when our oldest son, Jaxon, was running along a paddock fence line and encountered a fast moving snake he couldn't positively identify.

He turned and jumped away, but afterwards was concerned that he had scratch on his foot he didn't recognise. The boys were a few hundred metres from home. Our youngest son, Benji, ran for help, while Jaxon stayed calm and remained sitting on the ground. We applied a pressure bandage and splint as a precaution, and he was transported to hospital. Fortunately he didn't exhibit any symptoms, as it was either a "dry bite" or even more likely, a scratch from running around in the bush.

I think the best advice I could give anyone concerned about snakes is to educate yourself on what is around you. But when it comes to whether I'm afraid of snakes since the attack? The answer is: not at all.

Lea-Ann Mears is the owner and manager of retail souvenir business The Croc Tent. She lives in Cape York, in far north-east Queensland, Australia with her husband and two children.

All views expressed in this piece are the writer's own.

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