A fully grown California kingsnake that went missing from a Hampshire reptile centre eight months ago has turned up safe.
Sammy, who belongs to snake lovers Allison and Darren Cotton from Cheriton Avenue, Harefield, Southampton, emerged from the Southampton Reptile Centre this week after a long period of hiding.
He went missing after Mrs Cotton, 48, left the snake in the care of the store before jetting off for a holiday in Tenerife last September.
But they were left stunned when staff informed them that the 5ft pet has escaped from its tank while they were away.
However, they were emotionally reunited after Sammy appeared while a member of staff was vacuuming the snake room this week.
Mrs Cotton said she was “over the moon” that Sammy had returned.
She told the Daily Echo: “It’s fantastic.
“I cried when I saw him. I had started to give up hope.
“I am so glad he is home. He will be staying indoors from now on like he had been for the last 12 years, so I know where he is.
“It’s lovely having him home and he looks bigger than when I left him!”
Staff and Mrs Cotton’s family carried out searches of the store, in Deacon Road, Merry Oak, but they were unable to find him.
On his return, the shop gave Mrs Cotton £150-worth of store credit to buy Sammy a new home.
Vikki Weldon, who runs the store with shop owner Mike Bole, said Sammy’s return was the best possible outcome.
She said: “It was a great feeling to know he was still in the shop.
“My first concern was he was alive but how healthy would he be? He’s still in really good health which is fantastic.
“We searched high and low but just didn’t know where he was.
We felt he may have crawled up to the roof cavity but we really didn’t know where he has been.
“It’s never happened to us before. We are just so happy he is alive and back with Allison.”