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A local Zimbabwe newspaper reported on Friday that youths in Zimbabwe’s eastern city of Mutare had killed a 3.4m long python which had strayed into the suburb. No arrests have yet been reported but it is a criminal offence to kill a python in Zimbabwe.

Some residents of the suburb of Zimunya denied that the giant snake was killed on Wednesday, but the state-controlled Manica Post published a photo of a man holding the dead reptile aloft with a crowd looking on.

The hills behind Zimunya, a low-income suburb to the south of the city, on the road to the Marange diamond fields, are clearly visible.

Willis Mushati, a transport operator who owns a house near where the snake was found, was quoted as saying: “I only measured it after it was killed by some of the people who came here.”

The snake had swallowed a cat in the area. The reptile was later burned, the Manica Post reported.

Pythons are protected animals in Zimbabwe, and killing them is punishable with a fine or jail sentence. Even so, locals attack them, partly because of superstition.

Often, businessmen are suspected of keeping pythons to ensure their enterprises prosper.

In March last year, a dead python was found in a sack in Harare’s well-off suburb of Borrowdale causing consternation, and speculation that it had been kept for ritual purposes.