When I was a kid, my dad didn’t talk much about Vietnam. I knew that he served as a combat medic, and thanks to his customary plastic bottle of Black Velvet after dinner, I heard him mention the horror and trauma associated with treating American soldiers that had been caught in napalm strikes once or twice… but for the most part, the only thing he was ever really willing to impart on me was that the snakes in Vietnam scared him almost as much as the enemy did.
It’s important to note that my father, for all his vices, used to be one hell of a story-teller. Since having a stroke a few years ago, he’s lost the ability to convey his stories with the same quick wit or recollection that he once could, but through his muddled word choices and difficulty remembering, his penchant for exaggeration is as alive as ever. As a kid, I took him at his word when he told me tales of his adventures around the world, but as I got older, I began to wonder how much of it was true… and how much had shifted under the weight of years of storytelling. The man could command a room, but in a pre-internet age, it was hard sometimes to know the difference between a real story, and one that only started out as real.
Such was the case with my father’s stories about snakes in Vietnam. Huge snakes, poisonous ones, constrictors and the like – if my father was to be believed. They were as strategically proficient as they were deadly; laying traps like the Viet Cong as though they were working together to root out the Americans neither party wanted in their country. Over the years, I came to find that some of my dad’s seemingly most outrageous stories were actually pretty accurate – but I never believed him when it came to the snakes.
And as is so often the case, it appears that I was wrong.
A video recently surfaced out of the remote Indonesian village of Salubiro, on the island of Sulawesi, that makes my old man’s stories about Vietnam seem certifiably tame. A young man went missing, authorities mounted a search party… and what they found was a massive python with a huge, swollen belly. With a video camera rolling, they sliced into its stomach, slowly revealing the feet, then legs, and finally the entire body of the missing man.
The snake’s victim, a twenty-five-year-old plantation worker in the rapidly developing Southeast Asian country, likely knew there was a real risk of animal attack. A 2013 report issued by a coalition of environmental organizations on the island of Sumatra called “Eyes on the Forest,” indicated that twenty-seven people had been killed in the region from tigers alone in recent years, with more deaths resulting from marauding elephants due in large part the rapid deforestation that is ongoing in the country. What he likely didn’t suspect, however, was that the attack would come from a twenty-three-foot-long reticulated python.
“It seems he was attacked from behind because we found a wound on his back,” Junaedi, the secretary of Salubiro village in West Sulawesi province, told the AP. It bears noting that many Indonesians choose to go by a single name, rather than the western first and last. The villagers began searching for the victim, named Akbar Salubiro, on Monday night after his family reported that he never returned from a Sunday palm-oil harvest.
By Wednesday, officials found “scattered palm oil fruit, a picking tool and a boot.” Not far away from their discovery, they also found one monstrous snake.
The reticulated python is widely considered to be the world’s longest snake, as well as among the heaviest. They are believed to reach lengths that exceed thirty feet in the wild, but most experts also believe swallowing an adult human male would be a bit too much for even such a behemoth – largely due to the difficulty a snake would face trying to get a man’s shoulders past its jaw.
According to Emily Taylor, a professor of biological sciences at California Polytechnic State University and an officer in the nonprofit Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles, the chances of being eaten by a snake, even one as big as twenty-three feet, are “lower than the chances of being struck by lightning at the exact same time as winning Mega Millions.”
Perhaps Akbar Salubiro should have bought a lottery ticket instead of attending the Sunday harvest.
While reports of similar occurrences have popped up from time to time on the internet, the photographic evidence is usually coupled with very little back story or physical proof, but the video showing the man being cut from the snake’s stomach, as well as “digestive juices” covering the corpse and the verified missing person’s report filed with authorities makes this claim more serious than urban legends found in the depths of Reddit. For all intents and purposes, this seems to be entirely, and terrifyingly, real.
“The video doesn’t have any strong indicators that it is fake,” she said. “If it’s real, it’s really disappointing that someone lost their life.”
The older I get, the more my father’s stories start to sound less like the exaggerated tales of a man trying to win over a room, and more like the warnings he intended: “stay out of the jungle, young man. Everything in there wants to kill you.”
If you have a strong stomach, you can watch the video here (website text is Indonesian)
Images courtesy of Viral Press