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Pythons An Unstoppable Force in Florida’s Everglades

Pythons An Unstoppable Force in Florida’s Everglades

Samuel L. Jackson may be tired of snakes on his plane, but Florida’s got a bigger problem: snakes in their Everglades. For more than a decade, Burmese pythons and other exotic snake species have been making themselves at home in this vulnerable ecological area, and despite substantial eradication efforts, the snakes just keep spreading. The state isn’t ready to throw in the towel just yet, but the scope and scale of the invasion is a grim illustration of invasive species gone out of control — and, indirectly, of the consequences of irresponsible pet ownership.

An estimated 100,000 pythons call the Everglades home, dieting on a variety of rare, beautiful and unique species like wood storks, and competing with Florida alligators and other native predators for the top of the food chain. They play an extremely disruptive role in the local ecosystem, eating indiscriminately and voluminously. While they aren’t a threat to humans, they will chow down on bobcats and alligators, illustrating how seriously big they get.

How did all those pythons get there in the first place? Some are escapees from various stages of the pet trade, and others are pets that people released into the Everglades in the mistaken impression that a wild release was an appropriate way to get rid of an unwanted animal. There’s a lot to love about the Everglades for the pythons, including ample sources of prey and water with lots of great hiding places — and these majestic creatures are seriously stealthy, making it even harder for people to catch them (observers can be a few feet away and not even know there’s a python in close proximity).

Once settled in, the pythons started breeding, and they can reach 13 feet in length within five years. As their population has exploded, so have efforts to contain them. On a governmental level, the Army Corps of Engineers as well as Fish and Game have become involved in python control in an attempt to reduce the number of snakes on the ground. The government even ran a challenge offering a bounty for the person to bring in the most snakes, but  the hundreds of people who descended upon the state to take advantage of it managed to bag only 68 pythons in total.

The animals have become close to uncontrollable, though agencies are by no means giving up. The sheer scale of the invasion is such that many measures may seen futile, but the risks of inaction are simply too high. Florida’s native species are counting on environmental agencies to protect them from exotic invasives they’re ill-equipped to defend themselves from.

Meanwhile, private groups like the Nature Conservancy are also hard at work on the python problem. These groups have partnered on the 1-888-IVE-GOT1 service, which encourages residents to call in sightings of pythons in their areas (there’s also, yes, an app).

What else can individuals do about the python invasion? Pet owners can start by getting familiar with Florida’s Pet Amnesty Days, which allow people to surrender exotic animals, no questions asked — and if it’s not possible to attend one, pet owners can make arrangements with wildlife officials. The animals are evaluated, and if they’re healthy, they’re placed with preapproved adopters. Furthermore, individuals can support legislation to ban the interstate commerce in invasive species like Burmese pythons, which can help reduce the number of animals being brought into the state.

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Army Corps of Engineers officials inspect the Everglades on an invasive species tour. Photo credit: JaxStrong.

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7:06AM PDT on Apr 10, 2014

well said, BJ

6:52AM PDT on Apr 10, 2014

Irresponsible pet ownership...

1:27AM PDT on Apr 4, 2014

There is no end to human stupidity.

12:05AM PDT on Mar 31, 2014

Marianne C: As usual, you said exactly what I was thinking.

9:59PM PDT on Mar 30, 2014

Someone has to come up with a way to get rid of them before the travel into people's yards or move to other states. Florida should offer a bounty for each one brought in. I would have to be a large enough bounty to make it worth one's time, otherwise they will just continue to multiply until the whole state is overrun with them.

10:19PM PDT on Mar 28, 2014

ty

3:26AM PDT on Mar 28, 2014

In australia its introduced foxes, rats and feral cats plus a huge long list of invasive plants... In Florida its Burmese pythons and australian tea trees... we dump plants and animals willy nilly in new habitats and then are surprised when they take over and native species suffer. But as a friend once said, once you scramble an egg, that's it, you can never unscramble it.

11:15PM PDT on Mar 27, 2014

@Sa D - no, it isn't a joke to eradicate invasive species. Native wildlife comes first and invasive species threaten native fauna.

9:28PM PDT on Mar 27, 2014

On a daily basis we encounter venomous insects & snakes but we don't go stomp! Stomp! allow them their space coz in the circle of life all these plants, beings has a place & one needs to respect that. It is the mistake of man without foresight to destroy things that are harmful, imagined or otherwise, a threat, inconvenient, or disadvantageous to him and allow to thrive what is perceived as "beneficial". Hence, this man made imbalance. Otherwise nature left to its own devices, is in perfect harmony with each other... Sheer idiocy to even imagine that man could control nature

Invasive species should be destroyed?? That's a joke right?

7:24PM PDT on Mar 27, 2014

At present the guesstimated 100,000 snakes are in the Everglades but when they have depleted their stock of animals, necessity will force them out on the rest of the state and then the rest of the unprepared South. I find it difficult to believe, even knowing how well they can hide, that there are not snake personnel on this planet who can not either be hired or would take it as an affront on their skills to not be willing to aid in resolving this rather severe problem. When the snakes begin to leave and go into the neighborhoods, not only will pets be at risk, but also small children. That's what is concerning me. It bothered me years ago, even though I don't yet live in FL that no one was taking it as seriously as I was. Very early on when the danger was first learned was when the push should have been made, before it grew to over 100,000 snakes. Why in the hell wait until there was an army of them to search out?

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Kathleen J. Kathleen is currently the Activism Coordinator at Care2. more
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