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article imageFlorida wrestling with giant snake issue, Everglades threatened

By Stephanie Dearing     Nov 12, 2009 in Environment
Florida Wildlife officials released a report November 10 that warns that giant snakes kept as pets and released into the wilds pose threats to Florida's ecology.
When we think about non-native invasive species, we typically tend to think about plants like the Kudzu vine, or marine species like the Asian Carp. Rarely does one consider imported snakes, sold through pet stores as problem species for North America. But this is exactly the situation in Florida where boa constrictors and pythons live wild and free -- and are reproducing. The species of snakes threatening Florida's wilds include Burmese Pythons, Reticulated Pythons, Yellow Anacondas, Beni Anacondas, Green Anacondas, and Deschauensee's anacondas. It is believed that there could be up to tens of thousands of pythons in Florida. Pet owners release the snakes into the wild once the snakes become too big. The snakes have become the most sensational invasive species plaguing Florida.
The snakes are adapting readily to Florida's climate, and the Everglades provides a bountiful source of food. One scientist who studied the issue, Gordon Rodda told press "Compounding their risk to native species and ecosystems is that these snakes mature early, produce large numbers of offspring, travel long distances, and have broad diets that allow them to eat most native birds and mammals." Rodda is with the Fort Collins Science Centre. Rodda worked with fellow USGS scientist, Robert Reed on writing a report on the impact of the species. Reed told press "This report clearly reveals that these giant snakes threaten to destabilize some of our most precious ecosystems and parks, primarily through predation on vulnerable native species."
A program to hunt pythons in Florida netted the deaths of 37 of the snakes this fall. Temporary permits had been issued to snake experts in Florida in July, allowing them to kill the snakes until November 3rd. Licenced hunters are permitted to kill pythons in certain areas of Florida without a the need for a permit. Florida officials have also tried to find permanent homes for live snakes captured from the wilds. To date, 305 Burmese Pythons have been removed this year alone from the Florida Everglades.
Burmese Pythons, in the right conditions, grow very quickly. They are usually an easy-going snake in temperament, making them a favourite for pet owners. They are among the largest snakes on earth, able to grow up to 23 feet long and weighing 200 pounds. Burmese Pythons are threatened species in their native habitat.
Snakes that reach these sizes can present a risk to humans as well, although humans are not normally part of the diet of a giant snake. While rare, Burmese Pythons are capable of killing people. Earlier this year, a two-year old in Florida was strangled by a pet Python. In 1996, a 19-year old man was killed by his pet Burmese Python.
Uncaged Burmese Pythons, however, seems to be a too-frequent problem. There have been two instances of the species kept uncaged in separate homes in Florida in the past two months alone.
Florida's problems with giant snakes came to light years ago after tourists witnessed epic battles between giant snakes and alligators.
Besides hunting the snakes, Florida is seeking to toughen legislation for allowing exotic snakes as pets in order to better control the fate of the snakes. If legislators have their way, Burmese Pythons will not be sold in Florida any longer.
Florida is not alone with its exotic snake problem. Burmese Pythons are reportedly alive and well in North Carolina after having escaped or been released.
More about Florida, Giant snakes, Gordon rodda, Robert reed, Python removal permit
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