SOUTH FLORIDA — Scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) now say that it is likely impossible to eradicate the growing Burmese python population in South Florida. In a recently published report, the USGS said the python problem in southern Florida represents “one of the most intractable” management issues in the world.
HOW THEY GOT HERE
Although researchers detected Burmese pythons in the Everglades in the late 1970s, it wasn’t until the late 1990s that researchers confirmed the population had reached levels that would upset the balance of the national park’s ecosystem. The problem started when unwanted pet snakes were released into the wild.
The State of Florida has made it illegal to “possess, import into the state, sell, barter, trade, or breed” Burmese pythons as of 2010. According to the report, areas of Broward and Palm Beach counties have seen a significant increase in pythons as they migrate northward toward Lake Okeechobee and Fort Myers. Over 250 research programs have discussed possible ways to slow the invasion.
“Annual survival has not been well characterized for Burmese pythons, in part because requisite sample sizes and study durations for telemetry-based estimations are logistically and financially challenging,” the paper noted from studies performed in 2006. “However, survivorship is presumably high because adult Burmese pythons in southern Florida reach sizes that are too large for most predators to kill them.”
A RECORD-BREAKING CATCH
The largest Burmese python ever found in the Florida Everglades – an 18-foot-long, 215-pound female loaded with 122 eggs – was captured by biologists in June last year.
The record-breaking serpent was deep in the Picayune Strand State Forest in Collier County, where a radio-equipped male “scout” snake named Dion led researchers to her. Wildlife biologist Ian Bartoszek said he believes there’s a good chance the massive python might well be one of the original pet snakes released into the wild decades ago.
In recent years, pythons have reproduced exponentially in the Everglades, destroying populations of native mammals including rabbits, opossum and white-tailed deer – creatures that should be food for endangered Florida panthers instead of Asian reptiles.
Caption: Biologists Ian Easterling, Ian Bartoszek with 14ft female Burmese python captured in mangrove habitat of southwestern Florida while tracking a male scout snake. (Conservancy of Southwest Florida)
ERADICATION LIKELY IMPOSSIBLE
Researchers in Florida recently began outfitting small mammals like raccoons and possums with GPS devices to help track the locations and movements of pythons.
“Although a wide variety of techniques have been employed to catch pythons across southern Florida, many of these tools have not been evaluated rigorously, largely because of difficulty detecting pythons,” the paper concluded. “Overall eradication of pythons in southern Florida is likely impossible.”
Last year, during Florida’s annual Python Challenge, close to 1,000 people from 32 states across the nation participated in hunting the invasive species. Some winners received prize money, but the goal was to remove as many pythons as possible while bringing awareness of the governor’s initiatives to protect the environment.