This last Saturday while at the Karkloof farmers market I received a call from the farm informing me that a large python had been found in the fowl house and had swallowed a chicken. I suppose I should have been angry at losing one of my Zulu fowls, but I was not. I was sad at the loss of a fowl but rather excited to know that we had a python on the farm.
The African rock python is an endangered species and a very necessary part of our ecosystem. It is exciting to know that we have them living on the farm and in fact very close to the city. When I arrived back at the farm I immediately rushed up to the fowl house and there it was in all it’s glory.
My staff shook their heads in disbelief as I told them to leave it alone. Snakes in particular evoke fear and loathing in most people who will kill them on sight. At Broadleaze it is policy not to kill but to rather relocate if dangerous, or to simply leave alone. This policy has been a bone of contention with employees and I make every effort to explain that it is based on good reasons and is not merely sentiment.
Farming and food production has been one of the most profound and devastating human impacts on the natural environment even exceeding that of the industrial revolution. Humans have invaded natural ecosystems in order to grow crops and raise livestock and as a result destroyed and altered habitat for many species.
Most species have disappeared but some have adapted to this massive change and are exploiting the food sources available. Some, like our python are losing. When a python swallows prey it becomes sluggish and cannot escape an enemy. They then become relatively easy to kill.
Our python was here first. We have invaded its habitat and destroyed his natural prey species. It is only taking a chicken because that is all we have left it. As an organic farm it is one of our missions to restore the natural ecosystem and to produce food as much as possible in harmony with that ecosystem. It is no easy task. I have written in the past about our annual struggle with the antelope over our lettuce crop.
I cannot afford to lose chickens all the time but I do place great importance in being able to farm in an intact ecosystem which has pythons as part of it. It is this intact ecosystem which allows me to farm quality produce with no pesticides or other agricultural toxins. I have to find other ways of protecting my fowls that will still allow people and pythons to live on this land.
I found the hole where it entered the fowl house, and I need to fix it. I need to protect and renew the wetlands on the farm so that the wild prey species are available. I need to encourage the indigenous forests to regenerate. I need to apply the principles of organic farming so that we can put healthy, nutritious food on the table without committing ecocide.