By Martha Hewett @martha_hewett
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Videographer / director: Sam Miles
Producer: Martha Hewett, Ruby Coote
Editor: Beth Angus
Ed Taoka, a Massage Therapist from Surrey, is a proud owner of two reticulated pythons – six-year-old Sonny and five-year-old Cher.
Emi, Ed’s seven-year-old daughter, can often be seen on social media cuddling and playing with the snakes – totally unphased by their size or capacity for danger.
Ed told Barcroft TV: “The relationship between my daughter and the snakes has gotten stronger over time.
“The first time my daughter decided she wanted to touch the snakes, she was about a year and a half old.”
Ed’s interest for reptiles started when he was a young boy, and he credits the animals for helping his social anxiety.
“What I’ve been most surprised about is how calm they make me feel when I’m holding them,” he said.
Despite the snakes being “very strong predators” who “demand respect”, Ed feels comfortable with his daughter being near the snakes but is adamant she would never be left unsupervised.
He explains: “When you invite any pet or animal into your house you have to expect to be bitten – all animals can bite.
“But I would never leave my daughter alone with any animal.”
Emi began interacting with Sonny and Cher when she was just over a year old.
Once Ed believed she had the understanding to be gentle, he was more prepared for Emi to stroke the snakes.
In response to those who think he is irresponsible, Ed says: “I think supervised interactions with constrictors are relatively safe. They are safer than trampolines and bouncy castles.”
Both of the reptiles have “gentle and docile” personalities, but like many animals, their temperament changes when food is involved.
Sonny and Cher live off a diet of defrosted rats and rabbits, being fed approximately every two weeks.
“As soon as they get the smell of food – that’s what sets them off. You can see it in their eyes.”
Ed began sharing his life with his daughter and pet pythons on social media to prove they are not animals that should be demonised.
People were soon captivated by the pictures of a young girl playing with a huge python draped across her.
“I enjoy filming the gentle interactions between my daughter and the snakes – it just amazes me on a daily basis how they behave.”
Ed wants to challenge people’s perceptions of snakes and believes showing the snakes in a domestic environment can do this.
“As soon as you say a large constrictor and a child, everyone thinks the worst – that’s what I’m trying to change.”
Emi appears to share Ed’s views, appearing unbothered by the 15-foot python slithering over her whilst she plays with her dollhouse.
When asked if he feels the snakes could pose a potential threat, Ed explains: “They could stop her breathing if they managed to get around her neck, but I don’t think they could eat my daughter at this size.”
The reason, Ed says, for allowing his daughter to interact with the snakes is to show them that she is not prey.
“If they understand she’s not food or a threat, they won’t bite her.”
The life expectancy for a reticulated python is around 20 to 30 years, giving Ed and Emi plenty more years of fun with Sonny and Cher whilst educating others on the species.
“As long as you don’t frighten or hurt them, they are very gentle and docile animals,” he continued.
“They are actually nicer than most humans I’ve encountered.”