Thursday 14th November 2019 12:00
A fearless Thames Water engineer rescued a deadly metre-long cobra which had slithered into Basingstoke Sewage Works.
The fearsome snake was spotted as workers carried out an inspection at the site on Thursday, November 7. Such snakes are native to the South American tropics, sparking the theory this one was kept as a pet nearby and was either dumped or escaped.
The snakes are named for the way they flatten their neck to appear bigger - but unlike true cobras cannot rise up vertically. They are aggressive venomous predators, feeding on things like tadpoles, fish, frogs, reptiles, mammals and birds.
The cobra appeared lethargic because of the cold weather, so one of the Thames Water engineers carefully picked it up and put it in a bag, before the RSPCA came to take it away.
Sewage works manager Kenny Masters added: "We see some weird and wonderful things thanks to some of the bizarre objects that end up in the sewers - but a metre-long cobra slithering across the footpath in front of us is definitely up there.
"We don’t think it was flushed down a toilet as there's no way it would have survived - our machinery which filters out everything other than pee, poo and paper would have killed it. I can only fathom it was released or escaped.
“My technician who grabbed it is not especially fearful of snakes and just walked up, grabbed it by the head and said ‘what do you want me to do with it? Casual as you like. Fair play to him, no one else was going near it!"
RSPCA animal welfare officer Justine Hermon said: “When the call came through, we were expecting it to be a common species such as a grass snake or a pet corn snake.
“As an exotic animal specialist, my colleague Phil Hamilton attended the incident and when he arrived at the sewage plant he saw straight away this was a more unusual type of snake. He took one look at the animal and spotted the ‘hood’ on its neck, identifying it to be a false water cobra, a snake which originally comes from South America and is reported to be mildly venomous!
“We have now taken the snake to a nearby specialist facility where it will be cared for it until its owner can be tracked down or it can be rehomed. Thankfully, it is in good condition and is eating well. We’re grateful to the Thames Water staff who found the snake and got in touch as this snake would not have fared well in the cold weather.
“It is possible this snake escaped from a property in the local area, in which case someone will be missing their beloved pet. The owner, or anyone with information, can contact the RSPCA on 0300 123 8018.
“Sadly, RSPCA officers often deal with incidents concerning abandoned or escaped exotic animals. We would encourage prospective owners of any exotic pet to thoroughly research the animal's needs, using expert sources, and only consider keeping one if they can ensure they are fully able to provide for these needs. The needs of exotic animals are the same as they would be in the wild and are often linked to behaviours, diets or environmental conditions that can be difficult to replicate at home.”
Last year, Basingstoke Sewage Works began producing enough energy from waste to power the whole site, following a £53m upgrade to treble its energy generation capacity. It is one of only a handful of sites in Thames Water’s area to meet all its own energy needs, reducing both its carbon footprint and operating costs.
Special reactors, similar to giant pressure cookers, heat up sewage during the treatment process to help produce biogas. This is then converted into around 50 megawatt hours (Mwh) of electricity every day – enough to power the equivalent of 2,850 homes.