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Python farming could offer one of the most sustainable sources of meat in the world, according to a new study

Scientists are learning more about what sources of meat could serve as more sustainable alternatives to beef, pork and chicken.

Python meat could offer a form of meat much less carbon intensive than the current options, according to researchers who studied farms in Southeast Asia for two species of pythons -- reticulated and Burmese -- for 12 months.

MORE: 'Small swaps' to climate-friendly diet can significantly reduce carbon footprint, improve health: Study

Farmed python meat may offer a more sustainable alternative to other farmed meat because they can reproduce rapidly, even when food is not abundantly available, according to a study published in Scientific Reports on Thursday.

Pythons have an "extreme biology and evolutionary slant toward extreme resource and energy efficiency," Patrick Aust, conservation specialist at nonprofit People for Wildlife and co-author of the paper, told ABC News. Since pythons are an "ambush predator" that chooses prey up to 100% their own weight, they can survive for prolonged periods of time between meals, Aust said.

"These animals are extremely good converters of food and particularly protein," he said. "Literally, they are specialists and making the most of very little."

PHOTO: Scientists observed python farms in Thailand and Vietnam over a 12-month period to determine whether snake meat would be a more sustainable source of meat. (People for Wildlife)
PHOTO: Scientists observed python farms in Thailand and Vietnam over a 12-month period to determine whether snake meat would be a more sustainable source of meat. (People for Wildlife)

The pythons were fed on a weekly basis a variety of locally sourced proteins, such as wild-caught rodents and fishmeal, and were regularly measured and weighed over a 12-month period, according to the paper. The authors found that both species of python grew rapidly -- by up to 46 grams per day -- with females seeing higher growth rates than males.

Pythons are also able to survive extreme events, Aust said. When supply chains get disrupted -- as displayed during the COVID-19 pandemic -- it can have a "catastrophic impact" on global livestock systems.

"During COVID-19, there were a large number of chickens and pigs that had to be culled because there were minor disruptions in supply chains," Aust said. "Farmers couldn't handle even that disruption."

MORE: How experts say farmers can reduce greenhouse gases from agriculture

Pythons, however, were shown during the study period to survive prolonged periods of disruptions, or extreme weather events, without suffering any ill effect," Aust said, adding that they were at the "whims of the seasons" in southern Vietnam and Cambodia.

"They can pick up at the end of those periods," he said.

PHOTO: Scientists observed python farms in Thailand and Vietnam over a 12-month period to determine whether snake meat would be a more sustainable source of meat. (People for Wildlife)
PHOTO: Scientists observed python farms in Thailand and Vietnam over a 12-month period to determine whether snake meat would be a more sustainable source of meat. (People for Wildlife)

Other animals that are farmed for their meat take much longer to reproduce than pythons, research has shown. In one year, a mother cow can produce an average of .8 calves, a study published in 2021 in PLOS Biology found. A pig raised for pork could produce 22 to 27 piglets in the same amount of time, according to the paper.

However, a female python can produce between 50 and 100 eggs in one year, Aust said.

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The world is in need of high-quality protein with much less of a carbon footprint -- especially as the effects of climate change continue to worsen, the researchers said.

"We really are running out resources, whilst at the same time, the demand for high quality nutrients is going up," Aust said.

PHOTO: Scientists observed python farms in Thailand and Vietnam over a 12-month period to determine whether snake meat would be a more sustainable source of meat. (People for Wildlife)
PHOTO: Scientists observed python farms in Thailand and Vietnam over a 12-month period to determine whether snake meat would be a more sustainable source of meat. (People for Wildlife)

Reptiles have historically been a popular dish throughout the tropics, and python is already eaten prevalently throughout Southeast Asia, Aust said.

The trend probably started organically, as farmers incorporated pythons into their household livestock, Aust said. The field dressing of a python produces "two enormous slabs of white meat very similar to a chicken filet," he said.

MORE: Eating sustainably is one of the easiest ways to combat climate change, experts say

While Aust and his family regularly eat python meat -- often fried with a "nice crispy crunch" -- he added that it will take a long time for the Western world to culturally adapt to the thought of eating snakes.

"This isn't going to be a cure-all for our protein needs, but perhaps will play an important role in the future in terms of acceptability palatability in the Western palate," Aust said.

PHOTO: Scientists observed python farms in Thailand and Vietnam over a 12-month period to determine whether snake meat would be a more sustainable source of meat. (People for Wildlife)
PHOTO: Scientists observed python farms in Thailand and Vietnam over a 12-month period to determine whether snake meat would be a more sustainable source of meat. (People for Wildlife)

Animal welfare organizations called for the reduction of demand for products from animals who are suffering in intensive farming systems, encouraging a plant-based diet instead. Commercial breeding of wildlife species for human consumption is a significant concern from a conservation perspective, Karla Dumas, vice president of farm animal protection for the Humane Society of the United States, told ABC News in an emailed statement.

"We caution against not prioritizing plant proteins as a leading solution," Dumas said. "Most of the current egg, meat and dairy production practices around the globe cause tremendous animal suffering through extreme confinement, and inhumane handling, transport, and slaughter. The massive scale and growth of animal agriculture has made it one of the leading drivers of climate change, on par with all transportation in the world combined. It has other significant negative environmental impacts, including ecological damage through unsustainable land use and water pollution."

PETA pointed to its vegan starter kit, a free guide with advice and recipes, to people who are curious about embarking on a more sustainable lifestyle.

"Pythons can feel pain and fear, and they don’t want to be slaughtered any more than a cow, pig, chicken, or dog does," Danielle Katz, PETA senior director of campaigns, told ABC News in a statement. "Experts agree that vegan eating is crucial for stopping the climate catastrophe in its tracks, so adding more animals to the already billions who suffer and die for food every year would be as misguided as it is cruel."

Python farming could offer one of the most sustainable sources of meat in the world, according to a new study originally appeared on abcnews.go.com