Accounts and photographs of human beings purportedly swallowed whole by large snakes have long been a popular feature of rumor and folklore, and in March 2017 another instance was reported from the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, where a missing 25-year-old man named Akbar was reportedly found dead inside the belly of a 23-foot-long python.

Many Indonesian and English-language news outlets provided similar accounts of the reported grisly discovery, such as the following:

An Indonesian man has been found dead inside the belly of a seven-meter-long python, a local media reports.

Akbar Salubiro had not been seen since setting off to harvest palm oil in a remote village on the island of Sulawesi. The 25-year-old man was missing since March 26.

A search found the giant python sprawled out next to his garden with the 25-year-old’s boots clearly visible in its stomach, according to tribunsulbar.com.

Villagers then used a large knife to cut open the snake’s belly slowly revealing the father-of-two’s body.

The horrifying footage shows the corpse being slowly removed from the killer reptile as the leathery skin is peeled away.

Akbar’s neighbor Satriawan said: “He was found in the location of the garden.

“Initially Akbar set out from his home to go to harvest palm. After not returning to his home, people looked for him.”

Akbar’s wife, Munu, was away at the time and only found out when pictures and video emerged in the news, Tribun Timur said.

Village secretary Salubiro Junaidi said: “People had heard cries from the palm grove the night before Akbar was found in the snake’s stomach.

“When the snake was captured, the boots Akbar was wearing were clearly visible in the stomach of the snake.

“Resident cut open the belly of the snake and Akbar was lifeless.”

Although accounts of reticulated pythons killing and eating humans pop up from time to time, they are usually based on reports from remote villages lacking in documentation. We’ve investigated a few “python eats man” rumors over the years and found that they were either based on unrelated photographs, doctored images, or urban legends.

Indeed, animal experts have long been skeptical about whether the feat of a python’s ingesting a whole adult is even possible due to the width of human shoulder blades. The reticulated python is the longest snake in the world, but they typically prey on smaller mammals that are much easier for them to wrap their jaws around:

Reticulated pythons of this size — it was reported to be 7m (23ft)-long — are very powerful. They wrap themselves around their prey and crush it, killing it by suffocation or cardiac arrest.

Eating it is another matter.

Pythons do not chew their food, they have to swallow it whole, but their jaws are connected by very flexible ligaments so they can stretch around large prey. Even so, there are limits.

“The restricting factor is human shoulder blades because they are not collapsible,” Mary-Ruth Low, Singapore Zoo’s conservation & research officer and a reticulated python expert, told the BBC.

So while reticulated pythons — the longest snakes in the world — have attacked humans very occasionally in the past, experts have long questioned whether they could ingest an adult man.

Like most such accounts, wider news reporting of this story was initially based solely on local sources from a remote area. However, in this case the report was seemingly bolstered by multiple photographs and a six-minute long video captured with cell phones:

In a widely shared nearly six-minute video published online by the Tribun Timur, bystanders yelp and point flashlights at the ever-widening snake carcass.

At last, the macabre revelation: Akbar, a 25-year-old man who had gone missing from Salubiro village, apparently had been swallowed whole by the python, according to the Associated Press and local media reports.

“It seems he was attacked from behind because we found a wound on his back,” Junaedi, the secretary of Salubiro village in West Sulawesi province, told the AP.

Junaedi added that the villagers had begun searching for Akbar on Monday night, after the man never returned from a Sunday palm-oil harvest.

The search party discovered “scattered palm oil fruit, a picking tool and a boot” — and not far away, a 23-foot-long reticulated python, the AP reported.

A search party chased the python, killed it and cut it open.

Multiple videos and images that have emerged from the scene, taken from different angles, show the lifeless body of the man covered in what appeared to be the snake’s digestive juices.

Those images and video (not for the squeamish) are shown below:

A Washington Post report also noted the difficulty of a even a very large snake’s trying to swallow an adult male human:

The reticulated python is the world’s longest snake and among its heaviest, growing up to 30 feet, according to Emily Taylor, a professor of biological sciences at California Polytechnic State University and an officer in the nonprofit Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles.

The size of the reticulated snake in the video indicates it was almost certainly a female, and without a doubt stronger than a person, she said.

It would be very difficult — though not impossible — for even a large python to swallow an adult human male; a human’s broad shoulders can present an obstacle for the snake’s jaws, Taylor said. Python attacks on humans are extremely rare, and the chances of being eaten by a giant snake are ‘‘lower than the chances of being struck by lightning at the exact same time as winning Mega Millions,’’ she once wrote.

Despite that, stories about giant snakes attacking and eating humans crop up from time to time.

Many end up being fake, accompanied by images that have telltale signs of a staged death, such as the lack of digestive juices covering the “corpse,” Taylor said.

“Honestly, people try to fake things a lot when it comes to big snakes,” she said.

As for the video from Indonesia, Taylor said she couldn’t determine its authenticity. But the fact that the outcome was recorded on video, rather than documented only in still images, is noteworthy, she said.

“The video doesn’t have any strong indicators that it is fake,” she said. “If it’s real, it’s really disappointing that someone lost their life.”

Given the history of fabricated or misidentified images often being used with reports of this nature, we await further confirming details on the incident.

Sources:

Jakarta Post.   “Indonesian Man Found Dead in Belly of 7m-Long Python.”
    29 March 2017.

BBC News.   “How Did an Indonesian Python Eat a Man?”
    29 March 2017.

BBC News.   “”Indonesian Man’s Body Found Inside Python — Police.”
    29 March 2017.

Wang, Amy. B.   “An Indonesian Man Disappeared. Then His Body Was Found — Inside a Python.”
    The Boston Globe.   30 March 2017.