An elusive 10-foot-long snake dubbed “Wessie” is giving a Maine community the shakes for the second time in two months. But not everyone is convinced the creature is even real.
Police announced that a 12-foot-long snakeskin was discovered near the Riverbank park in Westbrook, Maine, at about 3 p.m. on Saturday. Westbrook police told The Huffington Post Monday that at its widest, the skin is around 4 inches in diameter. Someone found it near a boat launch, authorities said.
It is close to the area where, in June, two local officers reported seeing a roughly 10-foot-long snake eat a large mammal and swim away.
The creature, which evaded capture, went on to supposedly brag about its life on the lam in a parody Twitter account.
But because of a lack of photo evidence of the snake and the intact condition and curious placement of the skin in the police photo, some have suggested that it’s all a hoax.
Westbrook Police Captain Sean Lally said that as of Monday morning the skin’s origin remains unknown.
“It could’ve been planted but it would have to be (by) someone who owns a snake over 12’ long and that doesn’t account for the two sightings,” he told HuffPost by email. “The only way to definitively prove that there is a snake is to capture it. Otherwise, it’ll remain a myth and the myth is what makes it intriguing to people.”
Lally said his department has sent a tissue sample and photos to a herpetologist to see if they can determine the species of snake. He’s not sure how long it will take to find out.
Rob Christian, a herpetologist and the president of the Maine Herpetological Society in Millinocket, has reviewed the photo himself, however, and is confident that it was planted by someone.
“Snakes don’t shed out in the open like that,” he told HuffPost Sunday. “Getting a full shed like that, even under ideal conditions, is really unusual.”
Christian, who said he’s spoken with local police about the discovery, noted that when snakes shed their skin in the wild they rub up against rocks and rough vegetation to help peel away the old skin.
“You’re going to find the snakeskin wrapped around branches,” he said. “You wouldn’t see a regular shed out in the open like that, especially a large snake like that.”
He was also suspicious of the stretched-out placement of the skin.
“Typically when you get a large snake, over four feet long, [the shed skin is] getting rolled up into a ball,” he said. “Most of the time what people will do is they’ll stretch it out and let it dry out.” That’s what he believes happened here.
It’s not clear who took the photo ― the police or the person who found the skin ― or if the skin was moved or touched before the picture was taken. Police did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
If this turns out to be a con, who would plant a snakeskin along the river? It could be a simple prank. But Christian and the herpetological society point to local animal rights activists who have been petitioning for stricter state rules for owning, breeding and selling animals.
The new set of rules, which state wildlife officials approved Wednesday, crack down on illegal ownership in particular. The change caused some reptile collectors ― including researchers ― to fear that their animals would be banned or become harder to obtain, The Kennebec Journal reported.
Christian believes “Wessie” popped up with curious timing, just as discussion and argument of these rules was getting heated. He feels the story may have encouraged people to vote a certain way out of fear, since the elusive snake was suspected to be someone’s illegal pet that either escaped or was set free. He added that the kind of snake that produced the skin is likely not venomous or dangerous to humans, however.
Christian accused a local animal rights group, led by activist Kristina Snyder, of being behind the alleged plant.
Snyder denied the claims to HuffPost. She said she has faced similar accusations from herpetologists since she helped push the legislation, but that her primary interest has always been in tightening laws that protect big cats, not snakes.
“I didn’t ever think this would tie me to a snake story,” she said. “I don’t even know snake species so I don’t know what was found or seen.”
Asked whether she was behind the snakeskin, she said: “I can give you a very emphatic absolutely not.”
Hoax or not, police are asking park and river guests to “remain alert, maintain a safe distance from any wildlife, and report any sightings of the snake to the Westbrook Police Department,” they said in their Facebook post.
This story has been updated to include Lally’s interview and a response from Snyder.