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