Chris Bailey was a little unnerved to see a snake she thought might be a copperhead hanging around her basement door in Fry’s Spring three times over a three-week period.
After checking the Virginia Herpetological Society website, “I figured it wasn’t a copperhead,” she says. “My husband said, this isn’t a Virginia snake.” With a little Googling, they deduced it was a ball python.
She asked on the Nextdoor website whether anyone had lost a python, and learned that another one had been spotted in the neighborhood—and killed.
Bailey didn’t want to go that route. So she called the Wildlife Center in Waynesboro, which doesn’t keep non-native species, but it referred her to the Blue Ridge Reptile Rescue in Fairfield, near Lexington.
Virginia Military Institute biology professor Emily Lilly founded the reptile rescue about three years ago, when her daughter’s bearded dragon needed a bigger tank. Lilly saw an ad for someone selling one, and when she went to pick up the tank, she noticed a scrawny bearded dragon in the sand, which the seller said she could have.
“That was our first rescue,” says Lilly.
The ball python is one of the least aggressive snakes, says Lilly, and it got its name because it curls up in a ball when threatened.
She instructed Bailey on how to nab the creature, which was moving slowly because of the cold. (Had it actually been a copperhead, Lilly’s advice would have been, “Just let it be.”)
Bailey threw a towel over the python, which she guesses is about three feet long. She deposited it into a non-airtight Rubbermaid tote storage box, and drove it over to Waynesboro to meet Lilly.
The next step is to get the snake healthy, says Lilly. “She had some scratches—maybe she was attacked by a cat.” And then she’ll look for an adoptive family. “We’re run just like any other animal shelter.”
If Bailey had not recognized the animal was not a threat and needed rescue, says Lilly, “it would have frozen. It could have been a disposed pet. It was definitely born in captivity.”
Most of the rescue reptiles are left in apartments or surrendered by owners, says Lilly. “It’s bad for the environment to dump a pet,” she says. “The last thing I want anyone to do is dump them.”
And Bailey, although not a snake lover, didn’t want the python to die. She has a message for would-be ball python owners: “People, take care of your snakes. A ball python can live 30 years in captivity. It’s a long-term commitment.”