A rare six foot snake which has escaped from its Co Tyrone home could die of unseasonably cold temperatures within a day or two, its owner last night warned.
Police have appealed for people living in the Dublin Road area of Omagh to look out for Cooper the Hog Island boa, which was reported missing yesterday morning. The rare snake is not poisonous and is able to change colour from tan to almost pure white.
Owner Gordon McFarland said he was devastated that Cooper - named in honour of rock star Alice Cooper - had escaped from its vivarium, but he doesn't know whether it has found its way out of the house.
"I have a pair of them and it's the male. It's a small boa and it would be quite rare," he said.
"I keep them in individual vivaria with rocks and things for climbing, and the door has inadvertently been left open. I don't know whether it's in the building or whether it got out."
Mr McFarland said the species is so rare that by now it is probably protected on the few tropical islands where it is found in the wild. Most Hog Island boas in Europe are descended from very few individuals, he said.
The snakes need a minimum temperature of 23 degrees to survive, he said.
"In the cold conditions we've been having it wouldn't last very long. Without the warm temperature it wouldn't be able to feed," he said.
"If it's outside it will be lying lethargic, very inert and even near hibernation.
"In a couple more days it will be dead. It won't last unless it gets to somewhere warm."
Mr McFarland stressed that the snake poses no threat to the public.
"The snakes have bred very well for me - they are a great snake and not at all poisonous. These ones have a really good bloodline," he said.
"It's about six foot long and the shade would be a light to dark tan. They can go almost pure white at night - they're like chameleons. I've been gutted since it went missing."
The PSNI have warned anyone who finds the snake not to interfere with it but alert officers immediately. They can be contacted at Omagh at 0845 6008000.