A snake was discovered by shocked street cleaners after it was discarded in the recycling near Paddington Station.
The corn snake was discovered near recycling bins at Cleveland Square by Tom Elmer and his team, who work for Veolia and Westminster City Council.
There had been fears the reptile would not survive the ordeal, but the snake is now being cared for by the RSPCA, which is looking to find it a new home.
The team members were doing their daily checks on March 9 when they found a sealed box near to the bins. They initially thought it was an old fish tank, but on closer inspection noticed something moving inside and discovered it was a red-brown snake.
They feared the cold-blooded animal would die because of the cold weather at the time, and placed it into a garden waste bag to take back to the local street cleansing depot, where it was locked in an old bin to help keep it warm and safe.
The RSPCA were called and identified the abandoned pet as a corn snake. They are non-venomous but bear a strong resemblance to the poisonous copperhead.
It is not the first unusual animal to be found abandoned in the area. A tortoise was found abandoned at Paddington Station in February.
Mr Elmer said: “The snake was longer than my arm. Our foreman was pretty shaken up and I had to stop him from running off down the road.
“It’s odd because I’ve always wanted a snake as a pet. I asked my partner if we could keep the snake but unfortunately she wasn’t having any of it!”
It was not clear where the snake came from as the bins are communal and there are a large number of flats on the street.
'You cannot recycle snakes'
Cllr Melvyn Caplan, Westminster City Council cabinet member for city management, said: “We are always keen to encourage more recycling but this is really irresponsible behaviour.
“Just to make absolutely clear, you cannot recycle snakes or any pets for that matter. Well done to Tom for his quick thinking to protect the animal’s welfare and thank you to the RSPCA for stepping in.”
Vincent Masseri, from Veolia, added: “I am pleased with the way our team responded to this potentially dangerous situation. They acted quickly and effectively and in this cold weather that may have saved the animal’s life.
"We are delighted that the snake has been safely collected and hope that the RSPCA will be able to give it a suitable home.”
And a RSPCA spokesperson said: “We can only presume this poor snake was just dumped out with the rubbish. This is such a callous way to treat a pet. Corn snakes such as this one need very specific care and conditions to be able to live a happy and healthy life.”
Corn snakes are one of the top five exotic animal species coming into RSPCA care due to abandonment, neglect or welfare issues.