ITALIAN police were stunned to find a hissing python guarding a stash of cocaine as they swooped on a Rome drug den.

The 3m reptile had been deliberately starved to make it all the more aggressive, the ANSA news agency reported today.

Officers placated the rare albino python by feeding it a whole chicken. They found a 200g stash of cocaine hidden underneath it.

One woman and 11 men were arrested in the raid overnight yesterday.

The snake, which officers said was probably used to intimidate customers, was rescued and taken safely to a zoo, ANSA reported.