Python was the first animal hero in Sumatra

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, January/February 2005:

MEDAN, Sumatra, Indonesia– Among the dogs, elephants,
and other species who saved humans from the Indian Ocean tsunami on
December 26, 2004, the most surprising story may have been that of
the python who pulled a 26-year-old clothing vendor named Riza and a
neighbor’s nine-year-old twin daughters to safety near Bandar Blang
Bintang, Indonesia.
The Indonesian state news agency Antara reported on December
30 that, “Riza at about 8 a.m. was enjoying the holiday in bed when
suddenly she saw walls of water, mud, rocks and branches rushing
into the neighborhood. People were screaming and running. Riza,
living in a rented house near the coast in Banda Aceh with three
friends, dashed up to the second floor of a neighbor’s house and
stood on top of a cupboard.
“But as she told Antara from a makeshift shelter, the current swept
her and her friends off their perch. As Riza drifted, she saw the
two girls and their mother.”
All three were badly injured.

“Riza, who can swim, managed to help the girls,” continued
the Antara account, published in the December 30 edition of the
Jakarta Post. “The mother shouted, ‘Let me be, but please save my
children,” Riza said. “As she struggled for her own life and that
of the twins, a snake as long as a telephone pole approached,” Riza
told Antara. She and the twins clung to the snake, drifting with
the current, until they reached water shallow enough to wade ashore.
Riza and the girls may have saved the snake’s life by lending
their body warmth to his survival effort. While pythons routinely
swim short distances in warm inland rivers and ponds, prolonged
immersion in the much colder sea can cause torpor and drowning.
There were no functioning animal welfare societies in Sumatra
even before the tsunami. Sherry Grant, part-time Asia
representative for Humane Society International, built the animal
relief effort from scratch.
“The Indonesian effort is based upon the Bali Street Dog
Foundation network,” her husband and volunteer support person Ken
Grant explained. “The Bali Street Dog Foundation has enjoyed the
strong support of both HSI and the World Society for the Protection
of Animals, so it is natural that we should band together now.”
Their rescue team reached Banda Aceh circa January 7. They
were joined on January 9 by Sherry Grant, WSPA field representative
Gerry Richardson, and veterinarians Putu Listriani of the Bali
Street Dog Foundation, Ray Butcher of WSPA, and a Dr. Wahyu,
recruited in Medan, who has worked with the Sumatran Orangutan
Society.
Malaysia Star reporter Chin Mui Yoon on January 8 described
what they would find. “In the streets, there are hardly any
carcasses of cows or dogs,” Chin Mui Yoon said. “Limping dogs
wander about. They wait where people queue up for food and water.
Sadly, not a crumb of food or drop of water is given to these
four-legged survivors.”
“Somehow, somewhere, the animals fled,” Mercy Malaysia
volunteer Dr Quah Boon Leng told Chin Mui Yoon.
“Dr Quah, who arrived as part of Mercy Malaysia’s first
mission on December 28, said not a single animal was spotted all the
first week,” Chin Mui Yoon wrote. “Then, at the Kesdam Hospital,
10 cats straggled in. They sun themselves all day and sleep on the
empty student nurses’ beds in the women’s dormitory,” Chin Mui Yoon
continued.
“The cows have also come home,” Chin Mui Yoon added. “They
lie along the roads, grazing on vegetables left behind by sellers or
broken coconuts. Nobody seems to know where they hid during the
tsunami.”
Ducks, chickens, and pigeons emerged as well, Chin Mui
Yoon observed “The lucky creatures who survived will almost
certainly go into the pot,” Chin Mui Yoon predicted, “due to a
shortage of fresh meat.”
Responding to that complaint, “Ampro, the business arm of
the Association of Muslim Professionals, sent 500 live sheep to
Aceh” for Ramadan, wrote Arlina Arshad of the Singapore Straits
Times. “The sheep are being flown or driven from different parts of
Indonesia to Banda Aceh, Lhokseumawe and Meulaboh, said the Muslim
agencies Saff-Perdaus and Pergas Cooperative, which are handling the
gift. Another 400 sheep pledged by Singapore Muslims will be killed
and processed in Sydney, Australia, before being sent to refugee
camps in Sri Lanka and Aceh,” Arshad added.
“I’ve seen dogs nibble human remains. It’s horrific,” Lhok
Nga resident Ahmad Syuhada told Karima Anjani of Reuters. Just 12
miles from Banda Aceh, Lhok Nga had still received little aid from
anywhere for anyone,” Anjani said.
The first post-tsunami news about animals to reach the
outside world from Banda Aceh came from Lely T. Djuhari of Associated
Press on January 4. “The main airport in Sumatra was closed for
hours,” she wrote, “after a relief plane hit a herd of cows. No
one was hurt,” except the cows, “but the closure highlighted the
vulnerability of the relief effort.” The cows invaded the airport
looking for somewhere to graze that was not buried in salty mud and
debris.
Most of the nonprofit work done for animals in Sumatra before
the tsunami was to help endangered wildlife.
“We are still evacuating our staff and their families back to
some safety in Medan,” Flora & Fauna International Indo-china
elephant program coordinator Joe Heffernan told the Australian
Broadcasting Corporation on January 5. He predicted that poaching
would surge as tsunami survivors struggle to survive.
“We are developing our response,” Wildlife Conservation
Society director of Asian programs Joshua Ginsberg told ANIMAL PEOPLE
on January 13. “No staff were lost, and only a few staff lost
family members. We are making a collection for them. We are also
working to assess coral reef, fisheries, and mangrove impacts.”

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