Since finding an 11-foot Burmese python slurping water from an Encino swimming pool Wednesday night, city Animal Regulation Department officers have received 24 phone calls from people claiming the wayward serpent.
"Every one of them said they had lost a python," Lt. Tim Goffa said Friday. "I hope that doesn't mean there are more than 20 out there (loose)." Rather, Goffa theorized, some of the callers heard the initial reports of the python's capture and feared that "it was going to be killed (by the city) if the owner wasn't found."
Actually, the slither-away, described as "looking a little thin," will be auctioned off if its master isn't determined in the next week.
So far, no one has come forward with proof of ownership, not even the Pasadena man who phoned officers to explain that he had accidentally flushed his python down the toilet just the other day.
"He said it must have gone through the sewers all the way to Encino," Goffa said.
One python owner who did not call was rock singer Michael Jackson, who lives near the site of the capture and has a wildlife permit for a Burmese python named Muscles.
"We called Mr. Jackson's office, and they said the (Jackson) snake was OK," Goffa said. "Two other people have permits for pythons in the area, and theirs (pythons) were OK too."
Claiming the lost serpent will not be a simple matter.
Pythons don't respond to names. And descriptions don't count for much since this Burmese bears no identifying marks or scars on its greenish-brown body.
Nor are there any plans to put the python into a lineup, even though the shelter also has a four-foot boa constrictor on its hands.
"Usually, owners of exotic pets take photos of them," said Dennis Kroeplin, a wildlife officer with the department. "So a photo (of the python) could be considered evidence. Even better would be a bill of sale."
The officers theorize that the captured Burmese was a pet because it was so docile when spotted by the residents of a house on Hayvenhurst Avenue. Sent to inspect, Officer Eric Gardner took one look at the snake and radioed for assistance. But while he was waiting, the python tried to slither away.
So Gardner carefully took hold of the snake behind its head, draped it over his shoulders and--employing the python carry--hauled it to his truck himself.
"He controlled the head," Kroeplin said. "It's very important to control the head."
Friday, the Burmese was coiled peacefully in a cage at the city's Chatsworth shelter. Cats in nearby cages wailed occasionally, perhaps sensing that pythons have been known to eat kittens, though the reptiles rarely attack human beings.
Awakened and removed from its cage for a photo session, the snake hissed and repeatedly snapped its tongue out at a photographer. This isn't necessarily a sign of hostility, animal care technician John Gibbs said.
"He senses a warm-blooded creature near him, and he's measuring you up," Gibbs told the photographer. "But you're too big for him (to squeeze)."
Instead, officers said the python, a once-a-month eater, will be treated to dinner in the next day or so (one rat, large).