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New study says pythons could be sustainable livestock of the future

WorldNew study says pythons could be sustainable livestock of the future

Feel like python on your plate? Snake steaks could be the sustainable meat of the future, a new study has proposed.

Study leader Daniel Natusch and colleagues studied the growth rates of 4601 reticulated and Burmese pythons at python farms based in Uttaradit Province in Thailand and Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam.

They found that the pythons grew quickly, ate relatively little, harboured fewer diseases than mammals and birds, and could withstand extended fasting periods.

burmese python
Farmed pythons could be a sustainable source of meat. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

They believe the reptile could conceivably be farmed on an industrial scale with a lower environmental impact than conventional meat production.

The study noted that snake meat popularity is rising in some Asian countries where they have traditionally been eaten, but that the industry remains small.

The pythons were fed a variety of locally sourced foods – including wild-caught rodents and fishmeal — on a weekly basis and were measured and weighed regularly over a 12-month period before being culled.

The authors found that both species of python grew rapidly — by up to 46 grams per day — although females had higher growth rates than males.

The snakes also needed less frequent feeding than other livestock animals.

Reticulated python (Getty)
Pythons grow quickly off less food than most livestock. (Getty)

After the amount of food consumed, a snake’s growth rate in its first two months of life was the best predictor of its body size later in life.

The authors also used different combinations of protein sources (including chicken, pork-waste products, rodents, and fishmeal) among a subset of 58 Burmese pythons at the Ho Chi Minh City farm and found that for every 4.1 grams of food consumed, one gram of python meat could be harvested, without varying greatly between diets.

In terms of protein conversion, it was more efficient than other livestock studied to date.

Additionally, 61 per cent of these Burmese pythons fasted for periods of between 20 and 127 days, yet lost very little body mass during this time, the authors said.

Can you spot the snake in this Victorian scrub?

“These findings indicate that commercial python farming could be a feasible and sustainable food production option that could complement existing livestock systems,” a statement about the research read.

“They highlight the need for further research into the most effective and humane ways to produce this novel group of livestock animals.”

The results of the international study, involving researchers from Macquarie University and the University of Adelaide, as well as universities in the UK and South Africa, were published in Scientific Reports today.

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