Yesterday marked the opening of python season in South Florida – an attempt to curb the exploding population of invasive snake species that are wreaking havoc on the delicate ecosytem that is the Everglades. Or what’s left of it.
According to Florida’s Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Committee (FWC), Florida’s hot, wet, subtropical climate makes a perfect home for the native African, Asian and South American species, where they breed prolifically — laying 50-100 eggs at a time — and have few natural predators.
Worse is that they’ll eat just about anything, from wading and diving birds to mice, black rats, cotton rats, raccoons and possums. Growing up to 26 feet in length, some have been known to eat deer and even alligators.
With estimates ranging from a few thousand to more than a hundred thousand, no one knows how many pythons now slither free in South Florida, but it’s clear that the population is growing in number and spreading geographically.
As good a home as the pythons have found in the Everglades, they didn’t arrive on their own. Most are thought to have once been exotic pets, released into the wild by owners who suddenly realized they couldn’t manage a reptile so large with such a voracious appetite. Others are believed to have escaped from zoos and pet shops during Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Either way, the current ecological threat is a direct result of the exotic reptile import trade.
Astonishingly, many of these species can still be imported legally.
Among the species on the FWCs list of eligible takes are Indian python, the reticulated python, the northern and southern African rock pythons, the amethystine or scrub python, the green anaconda and the Nile monitor lizard. Rules specify that the reptiles must not be taken alive, and counts must be reported to the FWC within 36 hours. The season runs through April 17.
So few people knew how to hunt pythons that the FWC conducted a training session last month. With tanners paying $5-15 per foot, each snake could be worth a couple hundred dollars thanks to demand created by Gucci, Prada and others in high-end fashion. Still, the efficacy of the FWCs approach remains to be seen: a trial hunt in 2009 yielded only 39 captures or kills.
There are so many things wrong with this picture it’s hard to know where to begin, but you’d think banning new importations might be a good place to start.