Python seized in Apopka

A python named Delilah was moved by Florida Wildlife officials to a temporary home when his cage near Lake Apopka, Fla., was deemed unsuitable on Friday, Sept., 11, 2009. They measured her before moving her to a more secure location. She had escaped in the past. The 16 year old snake was measured at 18' long and 30" around. She will be moved to a snake handler in Bushnell, Fla. (GEORGE SKENE, ORLANDO SENTINEL / September 11, 2009)

Delilah, an 18-foot-long, 400-plus-pound Burmese python who had enjoyed a swell existence in an Apopka-area backyard feeding on rabbits, has a new home -- for now.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officials removed the Burmese python from a home on Section Drive on Friday due to concerns about Delilah's size and whether the chain-link cage she was in was secure enough to contain her.

A complaint prompted wildlife officials to visit the home and check out the snake, which some officials called the largest python they had ever seen.

The snake was removed from her enclosure and brought to a caregiver with a permit for reptiles of concern. Officials were trying to determine if the Burmese python's owner had the proper permit for Delilah.

"To me it's a Goliath. It's a monster of a snake," Lt. Rick Brown with Fish and Wildlife's Investigations section said, adding it is the "largest I've ever seen."

Recently, the snake was being cared for by Melvin Cheever of Apopka, the brother of her owner.

Cheever said his brother was moving to West Virginia and left the snake behind to prepare her new accommodations. Cheever said his brother has owned the snake for 16 years.

"I fed her this morning, gave her seven rabbits," Cheever said soon after the snake was placed in a container and prepared to move Friday from the small community alongside Lake Apopka. "She is as docile as can be. She's as happy as can be."

Cheever acknowledged the snake, which measures 30 inches around, had escaped its enclosure in the past.

The snake's discovery comes at a time when Burmese pythons are being hunted in South Florida and state lawmakers are looking at legislation to make laws governing python owners tougher.

Fears about the snakes escalated following the early July death of a 2-year-old girl in Sumter County killed by her family's pet python.

Cheever said that snake was maltreated and blamed its owners. Delilah, meanwhile, was well fed and not aggressive, he said.

But her history of wandering out of her cage and her immense size caused wildlife officials to investigate Friday in the small community alongside Lake Apopka. The snake was kept in a chain-link cage behind a duplex-style home.

Charlene Boush, 39, who lives in the home where the snake was living, said she had reservations about letting her two dogs near Delilah.

"She got out just last week. They had to put her back in," she said.

"I don't let them go back there at all."

Anthony Colarossi can be reached at acolarossi@orlandosentinel.com or 352-742-5934.