EAST MANATEE — The plan was to push the python out of a concrete pipe with a long 2-by-2. But then he had to crawl 15 feet or so into the 2-foot-wide pipe to reach the snake. And then the snake turned back on him in the close quarters and struck.
At that point, wildlife expert Justin Matthews ordered his son out of the other end of the pipe. Brandon Matthews had grabbed its tail. Not a good idea. Too dangerous.
Now the younger Matthews, four firefighters and a growing group of spectators stood by and listened to a 90-minute battle Saturday afternoon that was within sight of a Sweetbay Supermarket and a day care center.
When the python's hissing maw and spitting tongue reached 4 feet from Matthews, the stick became a weapon.
"I tried to get it to crawl out itself, but that wasn't working," Matthews said.
The owner of Matthews Wildlife Rescue, an animal care and educational company, the cowboy-hatted Matthews envisioned a specimen he could use to teach people about nature and why to not keep pythons as pets.
"I think this one had been there for years, living off Muscovy ducks in a nearby pond," Matthews said.
As a wildlife expert and instructor, Matthews has permits to take pythons and other large reptiles.
He had been hearing about this snake for months but had never seen it. A month ago, he found a belly track. When he checked inside the pipe Saturday, there she was.
Yes — she, he said.
"The females get a lot fatter and longer. I believe this will be the largest snake ever caught in Bradenton," he said.
After the whack upside the head with the stick, the struggle went Matthews' way. He and his son dragged it out without being bitten. It took six men to hold down and measure the snake. It was 14 feet, 1 1/2 inches.
Today, Matthews will take it to Bayshore Animal Clinic to scan it for a microchip.
"If it has one, there will be consequences for the former owner. If not, she's mine to use in my classes," he said.
Asked if there were more in Manatee County, Matthew said, "I hope not, but I believe there are."