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Posted 2/12/2013

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By Annie Chambers
Jacksonville District

A hunt for Burmese pythons in south Florida is not a hoax; this non-native invasive species is threatening Everglades ecosystem restoration efforts and native wildlife. The one-month ‘Python Challenge’ organized by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission allows anyone older than 18 to hunt the snakes on state land.

The intent of the event is to raise public awareness about Burmese pythons and how this invasive species threatens the Everglades ecosystem. Nearly 800 people registered from 30 different states to harvest the pythons.

Due to their large size, Burmese pythons have few predators; alligators and humans are the rare exceptions. Burmese pythons feed on mammals and birds and are known to prey on native species, such as the endangered Key Largo woodrat and American alligator. They may also compete with threatened native species, such as the indigo snake, according to United States Department of Agriculture’s National Invasive Species Information Center website. Even deer have been consumed whole by these snakes.

Known for their docility, Burmese pythons were sold as exotic pets. The release of unwanted pets led to an introduction of the exotic species in south Florida, mostly in Everglades National Park. In the last 12 years, more than 1,950 pythons were removed from Everglades National Park and adjacent lands, according to the National Park Service website.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s website lists Burmese pythons as one of the largest snake species in the world. The largest Burmese python captured in Florida measured more than 17 ft. long and weighed 152 pounds.

“I fear that the impacts from Burmese pythons in the Everglades could wipe out all the good things we’ve accomplished and are trying to accomplish, such as setting conditions to restore the habitat for native plants and animals,” said Jon Lane, chief, Invasive Species Management (ISM) Branch. 

Burmese pythons are exceptionally difficult to locate, due to their camouflaging capabilities. The ISM branch has initiated efforts to detect the pythons by using dogs and thermal energy remote sensing by an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV).

The Corps is one of five signatories for the Everglades Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area (ECISMA). Everglades restoration poses new challenges for invasive species management and has created a need for a more defined commitment to cooperation among agencies and organizations at higher levels of policy and management.

ECISMA published a ‘Field Identification of Select Native and Non-native Reptiles in Florida’ to help prevent the spread of non-native species by following three steps: be prepared, make detailed observations and report what you see. The iPhone/iPad application, IveGot1, facilitates identification and reporting of invasive animals and plants in Florida. There is also an IveGot1 hotline and website to report sightings.

Corps employees received python safety training to help them identify and handle pythons, if necessary. The snakes appear to be traveling north from the Everglades towards Corps operations at Lake Okeechobee, with one Burmese python already impacting operations at a Corps water control structure.

“If we don’t manage Burmese pythons, Everglades restoration will not be fully successful,” said Lane.

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