Hiss free no more: Fugitive boa who went AWOL in mall in Bulgaria’s Plovdiv found

A boa constrictor that gained national media attention by escaping from an exotic pet shop in a shopping mall in Bulgaria’s second city Plovdiv has been found after a nine-hour search operation, local media said on February 5.

The fugitive was found in a ventilation pipe, hours after its slither to freedom inspired headlines across the country, shrill cries from those who saw it on its exodus, a police operation to capture it, and a warning from a zoologist that because boas can go for a year without eating, the tactic that was being employed by the constabulary of trying to lure it out with food might not work.

In the course of the search operation for the fugitive, ceiling panels were broken, following on eyewitness accounts who had seen the snake peering out from a panel above the mall’s toilets.

The mall management board took action in one respect, even before the escapee was apprehended. At an afternoon meeting, the board decided to terminate the contract of the pet shop owner.

Amid the excitement, which involved Plovdiv police, the fire brigade’s “special operations” team (the matter of whether their training involved snake-charming, at this writing, is not known) and officials from the regional directorate of environment and water affairs, shops on the second floor of the mall were closed as police sealed off the area.

The lost snake meant loss of business.

The theory of how the boa made its break for freedom is that it broke the glass of its terrarium and took its bulk – 1.3 metres and eight kilograms – upwards to the ceiling, and then on into the darker and warm recesses of the building.

Enterprising journalists from the Plovdiv media sought out zoologists for information on the ways of boas, to be told that the reptiles may go for 12 months without eating. The prisoner had had a hearty meal on the eve of his escape, it emerged. “He could be there for months!” cried a Plovdiv website, never one to spare a headline an exclamation mark.

Moreover, should the boa have found a mouse or similarly delectable rodent amid his temporary accommodations, his refuge may have lasted longer. Or so the media speculated.

Reports quoted Kamen Yankov, director of the Food Safety Agency in Plovdiv (what mandate the Food Safety Agency has to do with snakes who make a break for the wider world was not immediately obvious, but nonetheless) told local media that the shop in question was not registered under Article 137 of the Veterinary Medicine Act as a pet shop or breeding establishment for exotic animals.

As the establishment was not registered as such, the owner may face a fine of 1000 to 2000 leva (about 500 to 1000 euro).

In Plovdiv, word quickly spread about the boa that was nowhere to found. No major television bulletin in Bulgaria on February 5 went without an item about the absconding serpent. With a day off school, teenagers from various parts of Plovdiv reportedly flocked to the mall to see the snake on the run, so to speak.

Yet reporters in Bulgaria’s second city found people in a first-floor coffee shop whom all the excitement had passed by, notwithstanding the presence of police, firefighters, officials, and yes, reporters and television cameras.

“Why weren’t we told? We should have been evacuated!” said one.

Well, that was all the snake wanted. A boa, who did not want to be constricted.

(Photo of a boa constrictor: flickr.com/dsevictoria)



The Sofia Globe staff

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