Snake slithers out of spice shelves at Sydney supermarket

By Frances Mao
BBC News, Sydney

Published
Media caption, Snake emerges from Australian supermarket shelf

A grocery run turned into a snake rescue for an Australian woman when she was greeted by a python poking out from a supermarket shelf.

Helaina Alati, 25, was at a Sydney store on Monday when the 3m non-venomous snake slithered out.

The Woolworths supermarket lies on the edge of a large expanse of bushland on the city's north- west outskirts.

But encountering a snake in the spice aisle is not what Ms Alati expected.

Fortunately for both parties, Ms Alati is a wildlife rescuer and familiar with snakes.

"I just turned my head and he was about 20cm from my face, just looking straight at me," she told the BBC.

She did a double-take but remained calm. No one else was around.

Recognising it instantly as a diamond python, Ms Alati knew it wasn't venomous as it protruded and flicked its tongue.

"He was looking straight at me the whole time, almost like he was saying: 'Can you take me outside please?'" she said.

Image source, Helaina Alati
Image caption, Helaina Alati says she alerted staff to the "10ft python in the shop"

After filming the snake, Ms Alati alerted staff and said she could help them get it out.

She retrieved a snake bag from her home, returned to the store, "tapped him on the tail and he just slithered in".

She then released it away from houses in bushland - a natural habitat for the species around Sydney.

'Like a scene from Harry Potter'

A trained snake handler, Ms Alati has conducted at least 20 snake rescues before.

She says her friends have previously joked about her being "the snake girl", referencing a zoo scene in a Harry Potter film where the boy wizard finds that he can talk to snakes.

Ms Alati says she can't speak Parseltongue like Harry, but "that scene's been mentioned to me a few times".

"They kind of just gravitate to me, like maybe they just sense that I'm the kind of person into caring and protecting animals," she said.

"To be honest, it's the most exciting thing that's happened in a little while given lockdown. The staff were all taking photos of it."

Australia's largest city has been in a lockdown since June to fight a Delta outbreak. Grocery shopping is one of the few reasons people are allowed to leave their homes.

Ms Alati said she suspected the snake had been in the shop overnight, probably initially in the ceiling where diamond pythons like to nestle.

It had probably lurked on the shelf all morning as "dozens of people... passed it and grabbed spices", she added.

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