The headliner of Blue Zoo Aquarium’s thrice-weekly snake show catapulted to stardom with her disappearing act.
Cara, a 12-foot non-venomous albino Burmese python described as “a very sweet snake,” absconded around 2 a.m. Monday from her enclosure in the Mall of Louisiana aquarium, according to the St. George Fire Department. A search began in earnest the next morning with police and firefighters — to no avail.
When night fell Tuesday, and Cara’s handlers thought the nocturnal snake would be more active, herpetologists, animal control and even a tracking dog were roped into the hunt.
“This is like if we lost our child,” Blue Zoo spokeswoman Ronda Swanson lamented.
Over the ensuing hours, more help was summoned from HVAC and security camera companies in hopes of finding Cara in some small nook or cranny, Blue Zoo announced in a Facebook post.
By late Wednesday, the 150-plus-pound reptile remained MIA — trails and scales in the ceiling reportedly the only clues to where she had been. The aquarium managers speculated she might be hanging out somewhere between the first and second floors.
“We all love Cara and (the staff’s) dedication and passion for her return is evident,” Blue Zoo wrote online. “We continue our search for Cara and remain voluntarily closed today for her safety.”
Meanwhile, Cara’s name and banana-yellow likeness had become virtually ubiquitous, appearing in national tabloids and trending on social media.
A Twitter account making itself out to be Cara’s — @PythonCara — began posting updates on the second day of her disappearance. Its inaugural tweet, a response to a reporter’s remark on Cara’s impressive size: “#GAINS.”
Its tagline: “Just let me shop and no one gets hurt.”
Its pinned tweet: a photo of Kentwood native Britney Spears wearing a Cara-lookalike over her shoulders during a performance and the caption “#FreeBritney.”
While @PythonCara called for the pop star’s freedom, the actual Cara must have been relishing her own.
Snakes are known for being “escape artists,” Chris Austin, the director of the LSU Museum of Natural Science and a local herpetologist, said. He said their strength typically allows them to open enclosures with ease.
Pythons can wield a lot of power. The Burmese variety in particular is one of the world’s largest snakes and can grow up to 20 feet long.
Austin said they’re native to southeast Asia and considered an invasive species in Florida. Louisiana’s cold winters prevent them from running amok in Baton Rouge.
In addition to their impressive escape-artistry, snakes are good at hiding, Austin said. They can fit into openings barely larger than their circumference and tend to slither into unexpected spots to coil up. They can hide for months at a time and go up to a year between meals.
What they aren’t good at, though, is moving fast. A breakneck pace for a python? About 1 mph. And they don’t tend to reach that speed unless they’re hunting down prey.
Theoretically, though, Cara could have slithered more than halfway to New Orleans by the time Wednesday wound down.
Theories aside, Austin and Swanson said, it’s highly unlikely that Cara even left the aquarium.
Because the mall is air-conditioned, and pythons produce none of their own body heat, Cara is probably trying to cozy up in whatever warm hideaway she can find.
“We have every indication to believe (she is in the aquarium) due to evidence we’ve seen,” Swanson wrote in a text. “She would also need to get through a firewall to leave our space.”
For a snake potentially so close, the search for her seems surprisingly long — and confusing.
Some details to emerge about Cara’s great escape differed from the aquarium’s initial accounts. Blue Zoo first said the snake escaped Monday evening, but the St. George Fire Department later said she slipped away in the wee hours of Monday morning. The aquarium said the Baton Rouge Zoo was involved, but a zoo official said that was news to them.
While the aquarium blamed an electrical issue for the closure, an SGFD spokesman unveiled the real reason — a missing Cara — about 30 hours after the snake snuck out.
Despite theories circulating on social media that Cara may have been stolen, officials say evidence suggests that’s highly unlikely.
Even if someone pilfered the hefty reptile, Austin said her size and long lifespan would make her a high-maintenance pet.
Austin said people shouldn’t worry about Cara getting out — unless she’s still missing after a month.
But even then, Cara might still be hunkering down in the hidden recesses of the largest mall in Louisiana.
After all, Austin noted: “She could easily go a year without eating.”