The Boelen’s Python

By Snaketracks / June 8, 2020
Boelen Python (Simalia boeleni)
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Boelen Python Care Sheet (Simalia boeleni, Black python)

The Boelen or Black python is a snake endemic to Indonesia and Papua New Guinea incredibly secretive and difficult to find in the wild. Also, it is quite uncommon in private collections, as breeding conditions are still unclear.

In Papua New Guinea Boelen’s are considered to be of immense spiritual and cultural significance by some Papuan ethnic groups. (Austin et al. 2010; Williams & O’Shea 2008).

Quick reference section

  • Difficulty level: advanced
  • Family: Pythonidae
  • Scientific name: Simalia boeleni
  • Other  scientific Synonymes: Liasis boeleni (Brongersma, 1953), Liasis Taronga (Worrell, 1958), Python boeleni  (McDowell,  1975), Morelia boeleni  (Underwood  & Stimson, 1990)
  • Other common names: Black python, Blu moran, and Papa graun(meaning the grandfather python). The common Indonesian names of this snake are sanca hitam, sanca Bulan, piton hitam, and ular buleni.
  • Subspecies: no sub-species  are currently recognized
  • Maximum adult size: at least 3 mts. A distinction for size comparison among male and female animals has not been reported.
  • Lifespan: over 20 years in captivity. At present, there is no data about the longevity of this species in the wild.
  • Venom: nonvenomous
  • Diet: carnivorous
  • Clutch size:  range from 9 to 14 eggs. After 70 days or so the eggs should start to pip.

Interesting facts about the Boelen python

Because of their appearance, they often are referred to as the “Cadillac of Morelia”.

Boelen pythons are well-known to the local people of Papua, and particularly to the Dani and Lani tribes of the Baliem Valley and western highlands.

The Huli people call this same snake Dalapadi, and they regard it as a god. It is taboo to hunt or kill it. However, before Huli warriors would enter into battle, they would eat the snake. It was believed that by doing so special powers would be bestowed upon them.

How does the Boelen python look like?

Orange and yellow Black python on black background coming down from above
Black Python

Their upperside color pattern is dark bluish-black or purplish-black (commonly iridescent with an oil-slick-like sheen).

Their anterior part of the underside ranges from white to pale yellow. The white extends up the flanks as a series of streaks.

Its upper and lower lips are patterned with pale or whitish labial scales.

Overall this snake has a stocky body and a large head as well.

Babies are a pristine burnt-red to orange, with their bodies covered with yellow to cream bands. Gradual black pigmentation presents itself as the neonate grows and sheds, though some form of the band remains.

Distribution and habitat of the Boelen python

The Boelen python is found in Indonesia (Western New Guinea in the Paniai Lakes region) and Papua New Guinea (the provinces of the Eastern Highlands, Central and Morobe, and Goodenough Island).

The species inhabits forested montane regions of over 1,000 m (3,300 ft) elevation.

Bolen’s are generally encountered on the forest floor but are also reckoned to be an able climber.

Breeding of the Boelen python

For more than 30 years this species has been kept in captivity by numerous zoological institutions and highly experienced python keepers.

However, due to their notorious difficulty to maintain and breed in captivity (the conditions necessary are still unclear), there are just 10 reports of successful breeding in captivity.

Because Boelen Pythons are potentially highly genetically uniform and thus susceptible to inbreeding depression, breeding programs require detailed and accurate pedigree management to maintain genetic diversity.

Successful breeders agree on the following requirements:

Enclosure: Adult snakes require as much room as possible: nothing smaller than a 6 x 2 x 3 foot enclosure. The animal must be able to completely stretch out and move freely.

Accessories:

  • a hide box that can completely shelter the snake is a must
  • a large log or branches for the snake to interact with and to help it when it is shedding should be also included

Substrate: can be as simple as newspaper or butcher paper. Cypress mulch is another inexpensive substrate, but in this case, care must be taken to remove the larger pieces.

Food: Boelen’s pythons love to feed. Care must be taken not to overfeed. For babies, it is advisable to offer small pre-killed pinky mice or hoppers after every bowl movement, or once per week. Adults should be offered an appropriate sized pre-killed rodents (or alternating with quail) every 8-10 days.

Water: a large bowl of fresh water should be made available daily

Temperature concerns: it is advisable to use an under-heating pad to set up basking areas to reach into the upper 80’s° F (26° C) and let the night time temperatures drop into the high 60’s° to low 70’s° F (15.5° to 21°C). Neonates or juveniles shouldn´t be exposed to very low temperatures.   

Light concerns: full-spectrum UV source – not in use for heating – be utilized for a cycle of 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness.

Humidity: in the peak of the day should be in the 70-80% range

Boelen python temperament

Boelen Python (Black Python)
Boelen Python (Black Python)

When encountered in the wild Boelens pythons are by nature quite timid. They are generally hesitant to bite unless provoked.

In captivity, Boelens pythons demonstrate an inquisitive intelligence. Prolonged handling sessions are not advisable. However, boelens should be removed from their enclosures every week to get them accustomed to a routine.

Common health concerns

As Boelen’s pythons love to eat, overfeeding is always a risk.

The most common illness is a respiratory tract infection caused by a bacterial infection in the lungs. This often occurs when the snake has been exposed to improper temperatures and humidity for prolonged periods, or if it experiences undue stress due to inadequate captive care.

Mites are a common nuisance with Boelen’s pythons, but with proper husbandry, they can often be avoided.

Conservation/threats

Boelen’s pythons are currently listed on CITES Appendix II (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) since 1975. For more information check: https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/42494046/42494055

The only threatening process for this species is human predation (Austin et al., 2010).

In Papua New Guinea Boelen’s pythons receive the highest legal protection possible:a zero quota has been imposed on collecting Boelen’s pythons from the wild.

Wild-caught adult animals are not permitted to be exported. Boelen’s that are produced through captive breeding at licensed farms can be exported, but only after the farm has filed a report with the Management Authority of Indonesia and waited for the appropriate CITES permits.

These steps, if granted, are mandatory before any Boelen’s python offspring may leave a breeding facility.

In Indonesia Boelen’s pythons are not protected.

Indonesia has exported between 50 –400 individuals per year since 1989.

Before 2001 Indonesia allowed an annual harvest of 120 wild individuals, but no quota for wild specimens has been allocated since that time.

Seemingly in response to this, all subsequent exports from Indonesia have been declared as farmed or captive-bred.

There is no management plan for wild Boelen’s pythons in Indonesia or Papua New Guinea.

Since the allocation of the zero quotas for harvest of wild-caught specimens, all exports have been labeled as ‘captive-bred’ or ‘farmed’.

In most jurisdictions, it is legal to own a Boelen’s python as a pet.

LETTOOF, D., (School of Biological Sciences A08, University of Sydney, NSW, Australia, 2006, “Case species, Morelia boeleni” available at https://cites.unia.es/cites/file.php/1/files/id_material/assessment_impact_pet_trade_case_study_Morelia_boeleni.pdf) reports:

“The first recommendation is for the Indonesian authorities to allow legal harvest of wild individuals for trade. Exports of wild-caught individuals are already suspected to be occurring.

When harvesting and trade are illegal, individual animals are transported covertly, resulting in higher mortality rates than if they were to be harvested and transported legally.

Harvesting is unlikely to have any impact on wild populations. It is recommended that only gravid females or clutches from brooding females are removed from the wild, and females are returned to where they were collected from (thus juveniles would be exported as “Ranched”). (…)

Accurate data should be collected on the location of where each snake was found, and this should be available to the distributor and customers. (…) If the snakes are of high market value and sold for a premium price, levies should be obtained and reinvested into a monitoring program for the species. (…)

The second possible recommended course of action is to maintain a zero harvest quota for wild specimens and instead increase monitoring and enforcement.

This should include: a) Increased monitoring of breeding farms, exporters, and wildlife traders. b) Development and implementation of techniques to differentiate between wild and captive-bred specimens (e.g., parasite loads, stable isotopes). c) Cooperation and capacity training by proven M. boeleni breeders on how to maintain and breed captive stock.”

Pricing and availability of the Boelen python

Within the last few years, Boelen pythons have become more available to private collectors and zoological facilities, but because of its rarity, it can be expensive: up to $3,500 for a snake.

Conclusion

Boelen pythons are just meant for experienced keepers.

They are susceptible to inbreeding depression because of their genetic uniformity, and this must be taken into account in breeding programs.

There are very scarce reports of successful breeding of Boelen pythons in captivity.

Boelen’s pythons eventually become accustomed to the routine of captivity and can become quite tolerant of handling and interaction.

However, their docile appearance must not lead to careless handling, as they are robust snakes capable of producing harm during handling, even if they are nonvenomous.


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