In a recent article here at Mysterious Universe on the subject of “monsters in our cities,” I wrote about reports of giant eels seen in the winding canals of Birmingham, U.K. In that article I said: “Let’s begin with the story of a retired U.K. policeman who I was able to interview a number of years ago. According to the officer, while serving in the British Police Force (service that, he said, began in 1977 and ended in 1988), he heard two tales from colleagues of giant eels seen in the winding canals that run through the city of Birmingham. The incidents occurred around 1979 or 1980. In both cases, the witnesses reported seeing very large creatures – the first, amazingly, around twenty feet in length, and both ‘very dark’ in color. Needless to say, if the physical details described in the first encounter were not exaggerations on the part of the witness, then it was without doubt a definitive monster.”
For me, the stories of the massive eels of Birmingham began in the latter part of the 1980s. That was when I was working as both a fork-lift and a van-driver for a company in the West Midlands, England town of Walsall. I heard a number of noteworthy stories pertaining to sightings of huge and violent eels, which were said to roam the dark, winding canals of both the nearby city of Birmingham, and certain rural areas of the adjacent county of Staffordshire. One memorable account originated with a truck driver who recalled such a sighting somewhere in Birmingham on a summer’s day in the late 1980s. It reportedly “shook the staff rigid” at a store that overlooked the stretch of canal in question. In this case, the mighty animal of the waters was described as being dark brown in color and said to be no less than 15 feet in length. Supposedly, it had briefly been seen by an employee who, completely mesmerized by its presence, watched it “circling” one area of the canal frequented by a large number of semi-tame ducks that the staff at the store regularly fed with bread during their daily lunch break.
But, what if all of these U.K. cases of giant eels (the number of credible reports I have on file now is fifteen) amount to mistaken identity? Of course, the big question is: what could you mistake a giant eel with? Well, how about a massive snake? As I noted in that “monsters in our cities” article, the dead body of a huge, eighteen-foot-long python was discovered in the U.K.’s Grand Union Canal. It just so happens that the Grand Union Canal links to the many and varied canals that wind their way through the city of Birmingham. In this case, which occurred in 2016, the witness, Sebastian Bishop said: “As I passed under a bridge on the stretch at Aylestone I saw a long slim shape just under the water. I went to investigate and prodded it with my paddle. I lifted part of it up and was shocked to see it was a snake. I dragged it towards the bank with my paddle. When I got out and dragged it on to the grass, it just kept coming and coming. I could not believe how long it was. I reckon it was about 18ft long.” Sebastian added: “I have been kayaking along the canal for about three years now and it is the most unusual thing I have found.”
But, that’s not all. Back in the early part of 2003, a story surfaced in the Birmingham media to the effect that the remains of a large, dead python had been found in the same precise stretch of canal where the giant eels were said to have been seen roaming years earlier. It was January 23, 2003 when the staff of the Birmingham Evening Mail newspaper splashed across its pages a story titled 15-Foot Python Dead In Canal. Steve Swingler, the journalist who broke the story, wrote: “Walkers, joggers and cyclists have been pounding a towpath in Edgbaston oblivious to a near-15ft Burmese Python lurking just feet away below the water. The giant reptile, capable of killing a child, was fished out of the canal near Rotten Park Road, Edgbaston by the RSPCA [Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals] yesterday. It had been spotted by a terrified passer-by.”
The beast, Swingler added, had only been dead for a short time. Inspector Rob Hartley, of the RSPCA Rescue-Center in Barnes Hill, told the newspaper, with much justification, that: “It’s like something out of a horror movie. This thing is massive; we’ve never seen one this big before. It’s a monster. We’ve measured it at fourteen and a half feet and up to 14 inches wide. It probably weighs at least 11 stone [154 pounds]. We don’t know whether it simply got too big for someone to look after and they let it go free or it escaped.”
What are the chances of Birmingham’s canals having both giant eels and huge pythons in their waters? I would say that the chances are slim. At the very least, it would be incredibly coincidental, given their superficial similarities. Could their be a colony of huge pythons lurking in the waters of Birmingham’s canals, in the Grand Union Canal – and possibly in other canals that lead to Birmingham, too? Certainly, the cold weather would quickly kill a python when the waters become freezing during the winter. Yet, as we’ve seen, such creatures do pop up now and again. Just maybe, those giant eels are really gigantic snakes that, incredibly, have managed to adapt – and also to hunt and live in stealth.
And, finally, it’s important to note that all of this monstrous activity isn’t limited to Birmingham. In 2015, a dead python – fourteen-feet in length – was found in Lancashire, U.K. The Daily Mail newspaper ran an article on the story titled “Snakes on a Lane!” The story began: “The body of a giant 14ft python has been found by horrified walkers after it was dumped by a Lancashire canal. Local ramblers spotted the reticulated python near the High Street canal bridge on the Leeds and Liverpool canal in Rishton. It is not known whether the reptile, which is one of the biggest species of snake in the world, was drowned in the canal.” It may well have been dumped by someone who had the huge snake as a pet – and that got out of hand. It is, however, intriguing that all of the cases we have addressed revolved around canals, which makes me wonder even more about the possibility of pythons finding ways to survive against the odds and living in our canals – for a while, at least.