The gruesome discovery unfolded inch by inch, as the villagers on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi gathered around a misshapen python and began to slice it open.
At last, the macabre revelation: Akbar, a 25-year-old man who had gone missing from Salubiro village on Sunday, apparently had been swallowed whole by the python, according to the Associated Press and local media reports.
“It seems he was attacked from behind because we found a wound on his back," Junaedi, the secretary of Salubiro village in West Sulawesi province, told the AP. Many Indonesian people use only a single name.
Junaedi added that the villagers had begun searching for Akbar on Monday night, after the man never returned from a Sunday palm-oil harvest.
On Wednesday in Indonesia, the search party discovered “scattered palm oil fruit, a picking tool and a boot" — and not far away, a 23-foot-long reticulated python, the AP reported.
Multiple videos and images that have emerged from the scene, taken from different angles, show the lifeless body of the man covered in what appeared to be the snake's digestive juices.
The reticulated python is the world's longest snake and among its heaviest, growing up to 30 feet, according to Emily Taylor, a professor of biological sciences at California Polytechnic State University and an officer in the nonprofit Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles.
The size of the reticulated snake in the video indicates it was almost certainly a female, and without a doubt stronger than a person, she said.
A python's diet usually consists of mammals, from rodents to primates. It kills its prey by constricting it to death, then ingests it whole.
It would be very difficult — though not impossible — for even a large python to swallow an adult human male; a human's broad shoulders can present an obstacle for the snake's jaws, Taylor said. Python attacks on humans are extremely rare, and the chances of being eaten by a giant snake are “lower than the chances of being struck by lightning at the exact same time as winning Mega Millions," she once wrote.
Despite that, stories about giant snakes attacking and eating humans crop up from time to time.
Many end up being fake, accompanied by images that have telltale signs of a staged death, such as the lack of digestive juices covering the “corpse," Taylor said.
“Honestly, people try to fake things a lot when it comes to big snakes," she said.
The fact-checking website Snopes has debunked several previous claims of a python eating a human, noting that those stories — from China, Indonesia, Panama, South Africa, India and Malaysia — all used the same picture of a disgorged snake.
“We don’t yet know the specific origins of this image, nor exactly what might have created the bloated condition of the snake (presumably the serpent is distended from having consumed something relatively large, animal or otherwise), but clearly this one reptile — sometimes identified as a boa constrictor rather than a python — has not been traveling the world and hopping across continents in search of human prey to feast upon," Snopes wrote. “Most likely the pictured snake had recently eaten a mid-sized animal such as a pig."
As for the video from Indonesia this week, Taylor said she couldn't determine its authenticity. But the fact that the outcome was recorded on video, rather than documented only in still images, is noteworthy, she said.
“The video doesn't have any strong indicators that it is fake," she said. “If it's real, it's really disappointing that someone lost their life."
Wahdi Azmi, the director of wildlife studies at Syiah Kuala University, told the New York Times the attack showed the importance of habitat conservation in order to manage human-wildlife interactions.
Azmi added that the “rare case of a python eating a person” was “an unfortunate incident.”