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Originally published August 14, 2012 at 9:17 PM | Page modified August 15, 2012 at 7:10 AM

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Python loose in Seattle park doesn't scare off visitors

If people were worried about a giant python that escaped from its owner in Cowen Park on Monday, there was little sign of it on Tuesday when parkgoers jogged, played and lay in the grass.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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If people were worried about a 6- to 7-foot python slithering through the brush at Seattle's Cowen Park, there was little sign of it Tuesday.

Despite the small signs warning of Monday's escape of the decidedly nonnative reptile, parkgoers jogged, sunbathed and played in the grass near a wooded ravine.

Nanny Dre Gordon let the two young children she cares for play as usual in the playground — but not until she made sure the snake wasn't curled up under the climbing equipment.

One group of teenage boys set off on an impromptu snake hunt when they learned the python was on the loose.

"It would be cool to find it," said a 14-year-old.

According to Seattle police, the snake was reported missing by its owner, a homeless man, around 2 p.m. on Monday. They advised park users and neighbors to keep animals on a leash and to stay on the trails and away from drainage ditches, thick foliage and hollow logs.

Police initially identified the snake as a Burmese python, but Don Jordan, director of Seattle Animal Control, said the reptile is actually a relative, a reticulated python.

Pythons are not venomous. They kill by constriction, grasping a victim with their teeth, coiling around the animal and squeezing until it suffocates. The natives of Southeast Asia are carnivores, surviving primarily on small mammals and birds.

Jordan said the reptile could be a threat to small cats or dogs.

One man spent part of Tuesday looking for the snake at the park, at Northeast 61st Street and Brooklyn Avenue. He thrashed around in bushes and banged on the ground.

Identified by others as the snake's owner, the shirtless man with a ponytail refused to answer a reporter's questions about the reptile.

"Everybody wants to know about the snake, but I'm not at liberty to say," he said.

Jordan said it's legal in Seattle to own a snake that is less than 8 feet long.

Reticulated pythons are among the most common large snakes kept as pets, said Jennifer Pramuk, a herpetologist and the animal curator for Woodland Park Zoo. They are bred in many colors, including yellow, the color of the wayward reptile, she said.

Reticulated pythons can reach up to 20 feet long, depending on how well and frequently they are fed, Pramuk said.

The same day the python escaped in Cowen Park, officials in Florida announced the capture of a 17-foot, 7-inch Burmese python found in the Everglades. The 164-pound snake, which was euthanized, is the largest captured in the Everglades, where the invasive species has thrived.

Pramuk said there is no danger that the Cowen Park python will become invasive. She said there is "no way" it could withstand the winter.

"If it gets to below 50 degrees for a prolonged period, it can't survive," Pramuk said.

Reticulated pythons can climb trees but they cannot burrow into the ground, she said.

Snakes lost in a building have at times been lured by live bait, she said, but that would not likely work in a large park.

If someone sees the snake, they should keep an eye on it but call for help from a safe distance away, she said.

"They should not try to pretend they're on Discovery Channel," Pramuk said. "Reticulated pythons are not venomous, but they can inflict a severe bite."

Anyone who sees the python is asked to call Animal Control at 206-386-7387 or 911.

Christine Clarridge: 206-464-8983 or cclarridge@seattletimes.com

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