There is an ethical obligation to ensure a Burmese python is killed in a humane manner that results in immediate loss of consciousness and destruction of the brain. Here are several ways to accomplish this, including using a captive bolt or a firearm to destroy the snake’s brain quickly and completely.
Using a captive bolt. To target the correct area, draw an imaginary line from the rear left of the head to the right eye, and then draw another line from the rear right of the head to the left eye (Farris et al. in press). While one person is holding the snake in place, position the captive bolt where those lines intersect. The bolt must enter at a slight angle, not flush to the skull.
Using a firearm. A second way is to shoot the snake in the head with a firearm, being sure to use a safe but effective caliber and making sure that you destroy the snake’s brain. The bullet must be placed in the same area as the captive bolt. To target the correct area, draw an imaginary line from the rear left of the head to the right eye, and then draw another line from the rear right of the head to the left eye. The intersection of these lines is your target.
Decapitating the python. Although not the recommended method of euthanizing pythons, cranial concussion (stunning) followed by decapitation is considered an acceptable method of euthanizing large snakes by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). Use a machete or other appropriately sharp tool. The tool selected should be capable of decapitating the snake as efficiently as possible. If you choose this method, you must quickly follow up by destroying the brain with the use of a firearm, captive bolt or other effective method.
Regardless of the technique you choose, make sure your technique results in immediate loss of consciousness and destruction of the Burmese python’s brain.
Why are these measures necessary? The central nervous system of a python (and all reptiles) is tolerant to low oxygen and low blood pressure conditions (AVMA 2007) and so the brain of a python can remain active for up to an hour even after decapitation, thus allowing the snake to experience pain (Barten 1994). Because the goal is to minimize the snake’s suffering, the brain should be quickly destroyed. Nerve reflexes can cause muscle twitches for hours after death in the snake’s trunk and jaws (Ernst and Zug 1996).
American Veterinary Medical Association. 2007. AVMA Guidelines on Euthanasia. 36 pp.
Barten, S.L. 1994. Euthanasia of reptiles. News from the North Bay. February 1994.
Ernst, C.H. and G.R. Zug. 1996. Snakes in question. Smithsonian Institution Press. Washington. 203 pp.
Farris, S., M. Squires, E. Lavergne, M. Serota and F. Mazzotti. 2012 (in press). Necropsies of Reptiles: Recommendations and Techniques for Examining Invasive Species. University of Florida Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center.