A Ssspecial Snake

One of the largest of its kind, the Burmese python is a species of snake native to jungles and scrublands of Burma, Malaysia and Thailand. On average, an individual can grow up to 25 feet in length and weigh up to 200 pounds. Burmese pythons are commonly identified by their pale tan, yellowish-brown or gray scales with large, reddish blotches outlined in cream or gold – unless they are like the Zoo’s Burmese python, Cleopatra.

Cleopatra, or Cleo for short, was a rescue snake confiscated by Busch Gardens from a private owner. After rehabilitation at Sea World Orlando and a seven-year stint as an animal ambassador at Busch Gardens Williamsburg, Cleo came to the Virginia Zoo as an animal ambassador in April 2017. Cleo has unique circumstances that would make it difficult for her to live in the wild: she is albino. Instead of having markings and colorations that would normally allow her to blend in to her natural habitat, Cleo is yellow with white markings. Albino pythons cannot camouflage in their natural environment making them easy prey to others and decreasing their ability to feed, as they are ambush hunters who then constrict and suffocate their prey.

In the wild, Burmese pythons eat mammals, birds and reptiles of appropriate size, or meals that can fit in their mouth and that can be swallowed whole. Their unique jaw structure allows the Burmese python to take in an animal four to five times as wide as its head. At the Virginia Zoo, Cleo is fed a large rabbit every six to 10 weeks, depending on the season as well as her activity. It is normal for snakes to go weeks without eating, as it takes longer for their bodies to digest their meals compared to humans.

Burmese pythons are considered vulnerable to extinction due to the pet trade, as well as for poaching for their meat and skins. Burmese pythons have also been known to feed on domesticated fowl and pigs, which can lead to farmers killing the snakes. In the wild, it is estimated that Burmese pythons can live up to 30 years.

A typical day for Cleo includes receiving enrichment, such as piles of shredded paper and large boxes, which are her favorite. She also enjoys deep soaks in a large tub, where she sometimes submerges herself for 30 minutes! Curling up under a cozy spot under a heat lamp is also a popular activity for Cleo.

Cleo currently lives behind-the-scenes at the Zoo’s program animal building. When she makes special appearances at the Zoo, three to four Zoo Keepers have to carry her by hand, as she weighs nearly 150 pounds! Cleo last measured at 13 feet, 11 inches long, making her one of the largest animals at the Zoo.

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