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Columbus Zoo Pays to Keep Largest Snake in Captivity on Permanent Display

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Jan. 11: Visitors catch their first glimpse of Fluffy, the largest captive python, at the Colmbus Zoo and Aquarium in Ohio. (AP)

Fluffy, a 24-foot python billed as the largest snake in captivity, is staying put to lure visitors into the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.

The zoo paid $35,000 to the snake's breeder in Oklahoma to keep the reticulated python on permanent display. While on loan last year, the python helped draw 1.53 million visitors, just under the zoo's attendance record of 1.56 million set in 2006, said Pete Fingerhut, the zoo's associate director.

Fluffy is about as long as a moving van and thick as a telephone pole.

Bob Clark, the breeder from Oklahoma City who raised the python from a hatchling, initially resisted the zoo's purchase offer but said he's happy with the outcome.

"I really love that snake; I think it's a special animal," he said. "It's so big and tame and wonderful. But I have to deal with the realities of life like everyone else. I like to have the money, and I know she's got a great place to live there."

The Columbus Zoo doesn't buy animals very often, said Executive Director Jerry Borin. Its animals generally come as exchanges from other zoos or through breeding loans or donations, he said.

Fluffy is on display in a 25-foot enclosure with a pool and a few plants, where he eats two 10-pound rabbits a week. In the wild, pythons native to Asia eat whatever they can catch, starting with mice and lizards when they're small and graduating to pigs and goats. There are a few reports of human victims.

The largest known reticulated python, named for the cross-hatching patterns on their skin, was 32 feet, 9 1/2 inches when killed in 1912 in Indonesia.