Warning: Pythons Are Taking Over The Everglades
The roar of the cicadas in mid-afternoon couples with the gently blowing sawgrass to create a soothing effect, and the tensions of Miami feel a million miles away. The Florida Everglades, just a stone’s throw from the metro area, has always been a mysteriously intriguing subtropical wonderland, inspiring writers, artists and kids alike. Alligators have long presided over it as supreme predator, but lately, there’s been a new contender slithering through the Sea of Grass: Burmese pythons!
Burmese pythons became star players in the exotic pet craze of the 90s, and it seemed that every kid had to have one, especially in Florida, whose primitive jungle playground feels like a natural backdrop for Animal Planet heroes like the late Crocodile Hunter or Jeff Corwin.
However, python owners were largely unprepared for the fact that their 3 foot hatchlings could grow at a rate of four feet per year, reaching sizes greater than 15 feet! And when their little pet no longer fit in the terrarium, many thought they were doing the humane thing by releasing him into the wild.
The swampy Everglades appeared to be the perfect locale for these Southeast Asian reptiles, and it was—a little too perfect: since the late 90s, their numbers have increased exponentially.
Florida State Senator Bill Nelson’s office reports that an estimated 100,000 of the snakes are currently slithering through the Everglades National Park. Nelson has called for a massive python hunt this winter, to be coordinated by the Department of the Interior, in addition to state and federal agencies.
Skip Snow, the park biologist who runs the program to study and eradicate the snakes, said, “We’ve found Burmese pythons in more places each year than we did before. We’re also finding more size classes.”
The History Channel’s “Life After People” program recently hypothesized that if man were to become extinct, invasive creatures would wreak havoc on natural environments, and pythons would be battling it out with alligators for the dominion of the Everglades. It was indeed a likely premise:
A few months back, scientists found a 13-foot python that had ruptured and died after swallowing a six-foot alligator. Pictures of the encounter circulated widely on the internet.
(above) Who’s eating who? Gator and Python Showdown in the Everglades
THE EVERGLADES: IT’S WHAT’S FOR DINNER
Florida is no stranger to invasive species. There are iguanas, fire ants, love bugs and Australian pines to contend with. However, pythons are in a league all their own. Adults have few if any predators to quell their numbers, while they eat everything in sight, including endangered and protected species, such as Florida panthers and wood storks. They also consume other wading birds, as well as rodents, rabbits, raccoons and even bobcats.
The snakes don’t typically target people as prey.
“I think there’s a better chance of somebody getting hurt swerving a car around a python crossing a road and having an accident, than having an encounter with one,” said Dan Kimball, the Everglades National Park superintendent.
Nonetheless, there was one notable exception recently in the news: on June 30, 2-year-old Shaiunna Hare was tragically asphyxiated to death in her Oxford, Florida home by an 8 foot Burmese python who’d escaped from its terrarium.
REMOVING THE THREAT
(above) Pete, the Python Sniffing Pooch
Scientists have gone both low-tech and high-tech in their effort to eradicate the Everglades of its python population.
On the low-tech end, authorities have deputized a snake-sniffing beagle named Pete.
On the high-tech end, they’re capturing, sedating and implanting select snakes with antennas and radio transmitters, creating “Judas” animals that rat out their comrades. The bugged serpents, once implanted, return to dens to join their fellow snakes, and that’s when they’re apprehended.
In addition to eradication programs, Florida legislators are considering a bill that would make it a 3rd degree felony to release pythons and other large reptiles or to negligently allow them to escape. Owners would have to register and photograph their snakes and pay a $100 per year fee to keep them.
The owner of the snake that killed Shaiunna Hare didn’t have a permit for his, and some owners contend that it will make the problem worse by creating a black market of out-of-state snake smuggling as locals try to get around the law.
A NEW TOUR ATTRACTION?
Tours of the Everglades are an extremely popular activity for people visiting South Florida. In fact, miamibeach411.com’s own Miami Tour Company, which offers daily excursions to this celebrated swamp, was recently nominated by reviewers at tripadvisor.com as Miami’s most popular attraction.
So if you should find yourself in South Florida’s outback, enjoying a hike through one of the region’s hammocks or out on an airboat taking in the beautiful views, keep your eyes peeled for these newest residents….before they’re permanently deported!
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