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Rabbit season? Duck season? In Florida, it’s time to hunt pythons

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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Florida has set March 8 through April 17 as a special python-hunting season in an attempt to control several species of invasive reptiles, which are wreaking havoc on the south Florida ecosystem.

Species to be targeted include Indian and Burmese pythons (Python molurus and P.m. bivittatus ), African rock pythons (P. sebae ), green anacondas (Eunectes murinus ) and Nile monitor lizards (Varanus niloticus ).

The animals have all been labeled “reptiles of concern” by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). It hopes the hunt will help control the eight-meter-long Burmese python, in particular, which has spread out of control throughout the state with populations growing into the thousands since the snakes first escaped from cages during Hurricane Andrew in 1992. The other invaders may have made their way into the wild after being imported through the exotic pet trade.

According to the FWC’s Web site, the Burmese python “has few natural predators in Florida…and it has preyed on native wildlife, including the federally endangered Key Largo woodrat” (Neotoma floridana smalli ). Other wildlife affected by the pythons’ voracious appetites are birds, small mammals and even alligators.

“We are once again engaging our stakeholders, in this case, the hunting community, to help us reduce the number of reptiles of concern in the Everglades,” said FWC chairman Rodney Barreto in a prepared statement. “Our hunters are on the front lines and, we hope, by tapping into their knowledge of the Everglades, we can make significant progress in this effort.”

Killing a python isn’t the easiest thing in the world. The FWC sponsored a “Python 101” training session for hunters on Monday, with topics including how to identify a “reptile of concern,” along with the best ways to kill them.

Any Florida hunter with a hunting license can pay an extra $26 permit fee to take part. The snakes and lizards may be killed using any legal method, and the FWC advises against trying to capture them alive, saying it is too risky. Their FAQ provides some guidance on what to do with slain snakes, including eating them (although it warns that tests on many Burmese python carcasses have shown a high level of mercury). The hides can fetch up to $5 per foot.

Of course, the snakes haven’t been doing too well on their own lately, with unseasonably cool weather killing a large number of nonnative and invasive animals and plants.

Meanwhile, strangely enough, it’s still legal to import a Burmese python and some of these other species into Florida. Pending legislation promises to change that, but it still may be awhile before it is passed.

Image: Burmese python by Allan Hack, via Flickr. Creative Commons licensed

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  1. 1. stupidshouldhurt 9:32 am 03/2/2010

    can you imagine how dumb florida law makers are, invasive species have been affecting florida wildlife for decades and still they have no law on the books about importation of these species.

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  2. 2. cbstryker 9:40 am 03/2/2010

    There is no reason burms shouldn’t be allowed to still be imported. The problem doesn’t stem from them being imported but rather them escaping either the zoo’s or pet shops during a storm, or people letting them go. What should be done is placing huge and heavy fines on anyone caught releasing an invasive species (or even anything non-native). Furthermore what can and should be done also is to make it mandatory for keepers to register their animal as you would with a cat or dog but also provide incentives to do so. And that way any animal found in the wild can be traced back to the owner.

    This legislation is one of the worst things to hit the pet industry. It’s being pushed and mongered by people that either don’t understand reptiles or actually fear them.

    I was part of a group that helped reform the laws in New Brunswick, Canada to be more reasonable. The law was slated back in the 70s by asking a local pet shop owner what should be allow. He essentially gave them a list of the animals he had access to. Thus for a long time the Fiji Iguanas were allowed but Leopard Geckos were not. (The Fiji Iguanas are listed on appendix I on the CITES lists). This was changed and updated lists was drafted and finalized based on reasonable recommendations.

    I have met people that adamantly believe that reptiles should not be kept by anyone because they don’t see the point and wonder why anyone would want to anyways. This is plain ignorance. If someone does not want to have a reptile pet, then don’t have one. But by forcing their opinions to not allow another person from having something is not right. Yes reptiles can cause problems if not handled properly, but so can guns, which is why rules and regulations are needed.

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  3. 3. stupidshouldhurt 2:18 pm 03/2/2010

    I had a king snake for 6 years, amazing animal but it is indigenous to my location, burmese et al. are not indigenous to FL. blaming the destruction on weather or people is the same as " guns don’t kill people, people kill people" argument . DUH! we already know humans are stupid, so why should the wants of a few pet owners dictate the laws. invasive species should stay in their native habitats, period.

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  4. 4. shallowandmean 6:18 pm 03/2/2010

    Oh, by all means, anyone should be allowed to have any pet he or she wishes. If someone’s pet chimp just happens to tear off her best friend’s face or if somebody’s pet snake kills his child or if somebody’s pet pit bulls kill the next door neighbor, well, hey!, no big deal! Whatever we do we must never interfere with an American’s right to do whatever foolish thing he or she wishes. Including, of course, keeping his weapon of choice be it a machine gun, bazooka, hand grenade, or whatever.

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  5. 5. krabcat 6:30 pm 03/2/2010

    snakes are nice low maintenance pets, you do not have to feed them often and "the mess" that they leave behind is usually pretty localized so cleanup is easy too. the problem stems from people underestimating there strength and keeping them in non-locking cages, or simply letting them go once they get too big. if people were simply required to register their snakes, and get a small amount of information on them, the escapes and release rates would plummet. also with the $25 permit fee coupled with the $5/foot price that you can sell the hides, hunters only need to "collect" a 5oot snake to start making a profit. and if your goal is to eliminate the invasive species, why set a limit on when and how many can be hunted? the reason for time limits in other situations is to make sure that they are not over hunted, which seems to be the purpose of this event. a small fee, such as in place already, coupled with a short class on how to: identify, kill, skin, cook, whatever, will reduce there numbers drastically over time and start to bring Florida back to how it was before they invaded.

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  6. 6. cbstryker 9:05 am 03/3/2010

    @stupidshouldhurt: It’s actually illegal in many places to keep and animal that’s indigenous to your area as a pet. And if you’re argument is that invasive species should not be allowed into the area then all cats, dogs, and even many plants need to go.
    But you’re treating the situation as if we are simply importing animals and letting them go. That’s not the case. The problem (despite what you say) is people letting their snakes (or monitors) go once they get too big.

    @shallowandmean: You’re comparing a completely non-related incident of a completely different kind of animal and trying to present it as a reason to why people shouldn’t have snakes. Burmese pythons are actually very docile whereas chimps are INSANE. Even though I know there are some people that do this, a snake as large as a burm should not be treated like your pet parrot. It’s not an animal to leave out of it’s cage and play with like some dog or cat. Even though Burmese pythons are basically kittens when it comes to temperament, they are still powerful animals. However, that alone does not warrant a ban. Dogs cause far more injuries than snakes (in terms of percentage). Should we ban dogs?

    Also, just to be clear, I don’t condone the keeping of giant snakes, such as burms and anacondas, by the average keeper. They should be reserved for the experienced, dedicated and responsible keeper.

    I myself have a burm (I’m not in Florida, so don’t bother asking where I live) but I’m all honesty I don’t have her for the fun of it, I took her off someone’s hands because they did not want her and I’m in the process of giving her over to a company that does shows, parties, etc with reptiles.

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