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CAUGHT ON FILM... PROOF THAT RARE SNAKE ESCAPED FROM N.WALES ZOO; Reptile's been breeding for three decades.

Byline: By DAVID POWELL

PROOF a rare snake has escaped a North Wales zoo will be shown on film for the first time tonight.

Rumours abounded the aesculapian rat snake had slipped out of Colwyn Bay Mountain Zoo, and was breeding in the wild.

Unique footage will be shown on BBC1 Wales' Iolo's Safari tonight, proving the tales are true.

Latin name, Elaphe longissima, its predecessors arrived during the mid 1960s, when the founder of the Welsh Mountain Zoo, Robert Jackson, imported reptiles from Italy.

At some point the aesculapian snakes, which feed on rodents, must have escaped into the zoo grounds and started breeding.

The first indication of their presence, was baby snakes found in the zoo grounds in the early 1970s, first thought to be grass snakes due to the yellow marking on their head.

On closer inspection they were found to be the aesculapian, which is harmless to humans. Welsh Mountain Zoo's zoological director Nick Jackson said: "The aesculapian snake is a harmless, non-venomous species which feeds mainly on rodents.

BBC Wales presenter Iolo Williams said: "There had been rumours for a long time that the species had escaped from the zoo and I thought it would be lovely to get it on film for the first time.

"We were lucky enough to have two experts on hand - BBC Wales snake expert, Rhys Jones, and Peter Litherland, a keeper at the zoo. "There's nothing for people to fear."

AESCULAPIAN

The aesculapian has a uniformly brown back with a streak of darker colour behind the eyes

It has a yellowish belly with ridged scales adapted for climbing trees

It was kept in hospital temples in honour of Greek god of medicine, Asclepius

It's on the World Health Organisation logo

It's normally found in mainland Europe and Iran

CAPTION(S):

A aesculapian snake and (above) wildlife expert Iolo Williams. 'There's nothing for people to fear, 'he said
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Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:May 17, 2006
Words:318
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