sa’ang district, Kandal province – At 12 years of age, Chamroeun was big for her age. Measuring five meters in length and almost half a meter in diameter, Chamroeun needed four adults to carry her out of her room. She was six times larger than her “brother,” Oun Sambath, who is also 12 years old.
Though she ate more food than anyone in her family—five entire chickens every two weeks—Chamroeun’s presence, and her considerable girth, was tolerated. That is, until last Monday, when she bit her “brother” on the leg.
Biting little Sambath was the last straw. Chamroeun had to go—to the zoo.
Chamroeun may be a 150 kg Burmese python, but she’s also been a beloved member of Khoun Samol’s family since she was small.
It began in 2000, when the baby python slithered into Mr Samol’s house in Sitbou commune and made it her home.
The reptile was first found sleeping under the sleeping mat of then 3-month-old Sambath. Seeing the presence of the tiny snake, who didn’t seem to want to leave their son’s mat, as a good omen, Mr Samol allowed her to stay.
The snake never left after that.
About a year after first showing up, Sambath’s mother took him to a fortune teller to learn the strange connection between boy and snake.
“My mom took me to a fortune teller who told her that we were brother and sister in a past life,” Sambath said yesterday.
After that, Chamroeun, whose name means luck in Khmer, was a part of their family, Mr Samol explained.
“I used to come home from work to see her everyday, like a child in the family,” he said.
News of the strange closeness between snake and boy spread, and Chamroeun and Sambath became minor celebrities. As Chamroeun grew larger and more threatening, her bond with Sambath drew international media attention from The Associated Press, British TV station Sky News, documentary filmmakers and more.
People from around Cambodia also visited the famous Chamroeun for luck and spectacle as they watched Sambath ride on his snake, cuddle with her and pet her. Many media outlets referred to the relationship between Chamroeun and Sambath as one of husband and wife.
Although Mr Samol said that Chamroeun had never bit anyone before, she sunk her teeth into Sambath’s lower leg on Monday around 9 am as the boy entered his room, where the snake was lying.
“While the snake was biting my son, I tried to break her tail and she opened her mouth,” Mr Samol said yesterday. “Her teeth are long, so there was a lot of blood coming out.”
Sambath was taken to the local clinic, where he was treated. By Thursday, he had almost fully recovered except for small scabs and slight bruising on his calf.
As soon as Sambath returned home from the clinic Monday afternoon, the Wildlife Alliance’s Rapid Rescue Response team that Mr Samol had called arrived to take Chamroeun away to the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center and zoo in Takeo province.
Vuthy Vong, project manager for the Wildlife Rapid Rescue Team, which is part of the Wildlife Alliance, said the snake was generally healthy, if a little overweight.
“It was fat,” Mr Vong said. “Not really fat, but bigger than normal.”
Mr Vong said that the python probably bit Sambath because it was either under stress, or was hungry at the time.
Mr Samol said that he was sure the snake did not bite his son out of hunger.
Since 2005, the snake has been eating 10 kg of chicken every two weeks, which, at $25, the family could barely afford even with the help of donations left by visitors who came to see the snake sibling.
And lately, Sambath said he had been disappointed that his python sister didn’t respond to him in the obedient manner she used to.
“When the snake was young, I used to call her to come and see everyone,” he said. “But now that she’s a big snake she doesn’t listen to me anymore.”
Nick Marx, wildlife rescue director at Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center, confirmed that the snake was now safely at the zoo. As for the snake’s enormous size, Mr Marx said, “She’s probably not gotten a lot of exercise and she’s probably been eating quite well.”
“Probably too much television,” he added sarcastically.
Mr Marx said the python is now in the company of other snakes at the zoo as opposed to the humans she has grown accustomed to.
“I’m sure there won’t be a problem there,” he said. “They’re quite easy to feed…but it will probably get a bit less than it used to.”
Mr Vong, the rescue team project manager, added that Chamroeun would not be able to leave the zoo and live in the wild.
“Because the python is used to being given food, the python cannot capture the wild animals to eat so we cannot release it,” he said. “We might have to keep it in the zoo for a long time.”
Sambath said he misses his python, and will go visit her soon. But at the same time, he seems ready to move on in terms of pets.
“I want a rabbit, not a snake anymore,” he said.