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29 October 2014
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The Aesculapian Rat Snake

Wild snake caught on film for first time in north Wales

An imported snake species believed to be breeding in the wild in north Wales has been caught on film for the first time.


The snake - the Aesculapian Rat Snake (Elaphe longissima) - can be seen on this week's Iolo's Welsh Safari (Wednesday 17 May 2006, BBC ONE Wales, 7.00pm).


The Aesculapian Rat Snake arrived in Conwy during the mid-Sixties when the founder of the Welsh Mountain Zoo, Robert Jackson, imported reptiles from Italy.


At some point, the Aesculapian snakes must have escaped into the zoo grounds and started breeding.


The first indication of their presence were baby snakes found in the zoo grounds in the early Seventies which were first thought to be grass snakes due to the yellow marking on their head.


On closer inspection they were found to be the Aesculapian Snake.


Over the next 30 years occasional adults and babies were observed at the zoo in Colwyn Bay, only very rarely being found outside the grounds.


The snakes have focussed on the zoo grounds and not spread.


The population of snakes has been the subject of a study by Bangor University students since 2004, which is co-ordinated by Dr Wolfgang Wuster.


Zoological Director Nick Jackson said: "The Aesculapian snake is a harmless, non-venomous species which feeds mainly on rodents.


"They have never proved to be a problem in the local area, and some see their presence as beneficial due to a decrease in the number of rodent pests."


BBC Wales presenter Iolo Williams explained: "There had been rumours for a long time that the species had escaped from the zoo and I thought it would be lovely to get it on film for the first time.


"We were lucky enough to have two experts on hand - BBC Wales snake expert Rhys Jones and Peter Litherland, a keeper at the zoo.


"They found two young ones, then later another keeper found a four foot-long one.


"Although we found these living wild in the grounds of the zoo they're outside the zoo as well, no two ways about it. But there's nothing for people to fear."


Iolo's Welsh Safari, Wednesday 17 May 2006, BBC ONE Wales, 7.00pm


Notes to Editors


The Aesculapian snake has a uniformly brown back with a streak of darker colour behind the eyes. It has a yellowish belly with ridged scales which are specially adapted for climbing trees.


The species was kept in hospital temples built by the Greeks in honour of the Greek god of medicine, Asclepius.










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Category: Wales
Date: 16.05.2006
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