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Posted by W von Papinešu on April 17, 2003 at 20:07:28:
DAILY POST (Conwy, UK) 17 April 03 Legendary reptile is thriving on Welsh hillside (David Price)
A terrified visitor ran for help when she saw a snake on the loose at a North Wales zoo.
But the timid four-foot-long reptile, spotted at the Welsh Mountain Zoo, in Colwyn Bay, soon scuttled into a crack and disappeared from view.
To the visitor's surprise the delighted attendant called to investigate shouted: "Snakes alive".
It seems the April sunshine had coaxed the zoo's fabled Aesculapian snake to make an appearance at its adopted home high up in the hills overlooking the seaside resort.
Britain's rarest breed of snake was left in its temporary hiding hole to peacefully make its way back to its nest on the grassy slopes outside the zoo grounds.
"The visitor was told the snake had not escaped - well not recently," said assistant curator Peter Dickinson.
"And we did impress upon her that it was not poisonous, was rather shy and was not a threat to humans."
But the sighting proved the Aesculapian - known scientifically as Elaphe Longissima - was still thriving after almost 30 years on the loose.
Just one was brought back to the Mountain Zoo from southern Europe shortly after the attraction was opened by Robert Jackson in the 70s.
It was a heavily-pregnant female who managed to slither her way out of her box and escape to freedom.
Old "Essie" laid her eggs in the wild. They hatched and now, three generations later, they are thriving on the North Wales coast.
"They are so rare in this country they have appeared in the Guinnes s Book of Records," said Mr Dickinson.
"They are olive green, great tree climbers and feed off mice, rats and other small mammals. They seem to survive because of the area's relatively mild climate." The snake, which can be traced back to Greek legend, is the species entwined around a staff as the symbol of the British Medical Association.
It was named after the Greek healer Aesculapius. Legend has it that one day Aesculapius saw a snake crawl out of a crack in the earth and entwine itself around his staff. Terrified, he killed the snake but immediately another appeared from the crack with a herbal leaf in its mouth.
It placed the leaf on the dead snake's head and it was miraculously revived. From then on, the snake has been associated with healing and in more modern times alternative medicine.
A BMA spokesman said: "The snake is our symbol of healing but many other organisations use it in different forms to signify its medicinal powers."