A worker picking up trash near the Waukegan lakefront stumbled across a potentially dangerous full-grown Burmese python Monday morning, but fortunately the animal was sluggish and easily captured.
The man was doing cleanup work outside an industrial building about 100 yards from the Lake Michigan shoreline when he spotted the albino snake, said Waukegan police Lt. Ed Fitzgerald.
"He was shocked and surprised when he came across it," Fitzgerald said. "He was picking up trash out of the bushes and the next thing he knows he runs into a 12-to 15-foot python."
The coldblooded animal was not aggressive when the man found it near Waukegan Harbor about 10 a.m., but it took three Waukegan Animal Control employees to lift the animal into a van.
Rob Carmichael, curator of the Lake Forest Wildlife Discovery Center, said the animal is lucky to have been discovered before this week's expected cold front sets in, or else it would have likely died.
The snake was injured and sick.
"The animal has some serious health issues right now," Carmichael said. "It was definitely not given very good care. We don't know how long it was out in the wild."
The general rule when dealing with snakes is that one adult handler is needed for every six feet of snake, according to Carmichael. He said the snake could have been a danger to a child or even an adult who was alone.
"It's certainly a little concerning seeing as it was caught down by the lakefront in Waukegan," Carmichael said. "This is a large enough animal to do some real serious harm whether it's pets or even small children."
Waukegan Animal Control contacted the Wildlife Discover Center after capturing the snake, and the center accepted the animal Monday afternoon. Carmichael said he hopes to rehabilitate the python before either including him in center's educational programing or sending him to another facility that can provide proper care.
Both Waukegan police and Carmichael believe the animal was likely the pet of someone who decided to ditch it near the harbor at the intersection of Seahorse Drive and Clayton Street.
The animal shows signs of abuse, including severe scars and open wounds on its back, was emaciated for its size and had respiratory problems. Carmichael said it is likely the previous owner fed the snake live prey that inflicted serious damage to the animal. Typically, the pet should be fed either dead rats or rabbits.
The Burmese python, which is native to Southeast Asia and is used to a tropical climate, is fairly easy to purchase as a pet, but often owners don't realize the difficulty of caring for the animal, which can live for more than 30 years, according to Carmichael.
"You've got to fully understand what you're in for when you have an animal of this size," he said. "One mistake and if he gets into a feeding response and grabs you, you are going to be in a whole world of trouble."
The snake is being held in a quarantine area at the nature center while undergoing treatment.
"We are keeping a close eye on the progress of the animal over the next week or two, assuming it makes it that long," Carmichael said.