A debate has been going on surrounding the death of Dan Brandon, 31, who died of asphyxiation in August last year. Brandon, who lived in the village of Church Crookham near Basingstoke, was a landscape worker and owner of 10 snakes and 12 tarantulas which he kept in his bedroom. He had been a snake owner since the age of 15 and was passionate about reptiles. When one day he did not show up for dinner after repeatedly being called, his mother went into his room to find him dead on the floor and one of the snakes missing from his vivarium, namely the 8ft long African rock python named “Tiny”. The snake, which Brandon acquired when it was just a baby, was found later hiding in a cabinet nearby out of fear. Forensics stated death by asphyxiation only by exclusion, as there were no evident marks of pressure on his neck or elsewhere on the body.
Coroner Andrew Bradley recorded a verdict of misadventure because there was no more evidence of Brandon’s death but Tiny. Bradley, however, refuses to acknowledge a confrontation between owner and pet, stating that if Tiny was indeed involved in the killing it was in an affectionate act. Brandon’s vivarium and Tiny were examined and proved that Brandon was an expert herpetologist and experienced in caring for his reptiles, implying that he would have known how to unwrap Tiny if necessary. There were no bite marks or puncture wounds on Brandon’s body, and also no scratch marks on Tiny. Even Brandon’s Mother defended the Python by saying Tiny was very protective of him, leading it to aggressive behaviour at times. Currently, she is the one caring for Brandon’s exotic pets.
On the one hand, Chris Newman, Chairman of the Federation of British Herpetologists, believes Tiny should not be held responsible for the death of its owner, stating that “any animal has the potential to be dangerous – the question is, was this snake responsible and I think the answer to that is ‘no’.” His argument for this opinion is that this has been the first death or injury made by a snake in 100 years of snake keeping in Britain and that there is not enough evidence against Tiny – pythons rarely kill humans and he worries that safety concerns about keeping snakes will be unnecessarily risen.
On the other hand, snake expert Geraint Hopkins gives a counter argument claiming that pythons are wild reptiles and unpredictable and therefore animals that should not be kept as pets. Hopkins stated that it is impossible for a man to get a snake of that magnitude off by himself and that at least two persons should be present when handling a python. He added that pythons cannot be affectionate and that Tiny would have tightened itself around Brandon because it sensed some sort of danger, which led to the tragic accident.
African rock pythons are the largest African snakes and can weigh up to 90kg, even though they are not venomous they are indeed very strong – they kill by wrapping themselves around their prey to swallow them whole which are usually monkeys, antelopes and crocodiles. This species is not on the list of species that require owners to have a license under the Dangerous Wild Animals Act and yet there are about 10,000 constrictors (reptiles that kill by constriction) currently being held as pets in the UK.
While there is still discussion about the reptile’s responsibility in the case, family and friends of Brandon are still devastated but do not blame the animals. A close friend created a JustGiving fundraising page in Brandon’s memory to collect money for both WWF and RSPB, claiming that he loved wildlife more than anything.