Snakezilla of the Congo

by Kyle Wright

Colonel Remy Van Lierde was a Belgian pilot in the Royal Air Force. The man flew more than 400 combat missions during World War II alone. In 1959, he was aboard a helicopter returning from a mission in the Katanga region of the Congo when he spotted a snake. The serpent was big enough to warrant a second look—big enough to see from a moving helicopter—so Remy whipped it around for another pass. He estimated the snake to be 50 feet long.

There are some big snakes in the world, sure, but 50 feet is just ridiculous. If you were to stop a stranger on the street and ask which is the biggest snake in the world, the answer would probably be the anaconda. It is the heaviest, with the record specimen weighing 500 pounds, but it’s not the longest. That honor belongs to the reticulated python native to southeast Asia. Allegedly, the record retic stretched the tape to nearly 33 feet. 

But Africa’s largest species, the Central African rock python, isn’t even half that size. Adults typically measure 10 feet or so, with giants growing to nearly 15 feet and weighing upwards of 200 pounds. There are reports of specimens reaching nearly 20 feet in length, but those reports have never been substantiated. Females grow larger than males, and unlike most other snakes, they stick around after their eggs hatch and protect their young.

If the snake Remy spotted was indeed a super-sized rock python, taking up for her babies may well have been what the old girl was doing, because on the last of the helicopter’s passes, as the crew hovered some 25 feet above, the snake raised its head 10 feet off the ground as if to strike. I’m fairly certain I would have been trying to take the thing’s head off with helicopter blades, but Remy was only interested in taking a closer look. He described the snake as having dark green and brown scales with a white underbelly. He said it had the triangular head of a horse and guessed its dimensions at two feet wide and three feet long.

One might be tempted to dismiss the sighting as an exaggeration, if not an out and out fabrication. Lord knows it’s happened often enough. But Colonel Van Lierde wasn’t just some random schmuck. In addition to his 25 years of experience, the pilot would have had extensive training in estimating the size and shape of objects from the air, and as such, he would have been considered an expert witness. Besides, while Remy was busy sizing the snake up, a soldier aboard the helicopter snapped a few photos. An analysis of the best of those photographs, comparing the reptile to trees and termite mounds in the shot, suggests the snake was at least 40 feet long.

So, what exactly did Colonel Van Lierde see from the helicopter that day? There are naysayers, of course, but I, for one, choose to believe that giants exist in nature. And I actually like the idea that a snake longer than a school bus might be slithering through the Congo. Almost as much as I like the fact that I don’t have to live there.

Editor’s note: The above picture of the snake was taken from Col. Van Lierde’s helicopter. People have argued over whether or not the size of the snake has been “verified” using magnification and references with other objects visible in the photo. Our own Pat Hemingway Adams said it best: “How can we prove that an animal existed if we don’t kill it and bring it home and show you?”

From the FE Films Archive

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