Two Burmese pythons wrap around the neck and body of a tattooed photographer, making heads turn. It is a visual delight for the morning visitors of the Manila Zoological and Botanical Garden. Awel B. is 34 years old and hails from Pangasinan. He makes a living as a photographer with his two python pals: Niknok the albino, and Onya the normal one.

“I only charge R100 to have one’s photo (size 3R) taken either with Niknok or Onya,” he says, as the two snakes slither on his neck and body. The photo opportunity is a crowd drawer, an attraction for kids and animal lovers.

Niknok the albino is especially popular, and his kind is the most widely available morph. It is white with patterns in butterscotch yellow and burnt orange. It is said that the Burmese albino python is one of the five largest species of snakes in the world, native to a large area of tropical South and Southeast Asia.

Over a year old, by age four, Niknok will have reached his adult size, though he will continue growing very slowly throughout his life, which may exceed 20 years, according to Wikipedia.

“We feed them with live chicken twice a month,” Awel shares. In the wild, Burmese pythons grow to 3-7 meters (12 feet 2 inches) on average. The record maximum length for Burmese pythons is held by a female named “Baby” that lived at Serpent Safari, Illinois for 27 years. Shortly after death, her actual length was determined to be 5.74 meters (18 feet 10 inches).

Awel’s tattoo-embellished neck, arms, body, and legs make him a human macabre mural. Horrific, horrible skulls and frightful, fantastic animals abound. “I love my animals; see this dragon on my right arm, a ram on my right leg, a bull on my left leg—am Taurus-born,” he says with pride.

But the death symbols dominate, The Grim Reaper hugs his left upper arm and there is a demon design on his forearm. To most tattoo artists, skulls can symbolize everything from a celebration of life to serving as a way to ward off evil spirits. The skull is said to be the seat of the soul—a fitting thought on All Souls’ Day. Incidentally, Awel loves the heavy metal sounds of the Slipknot band, and even has ‘cold soul’ tattooed on his fingers. Awel sports two rings with skull designs. “Seriously, I don’t have any tattoo on my back,” he laughs.

Reserved space for his two python pals?


This appeared in Animal Scene’s November 2017 issue.