Monday, December 9, 2013
The National Park Service says 1,825 Burmese pythons have been caught in and around the Florida Everglades since 2000. One of the largest -- more than 16 feet long and weighing 156 pounds -- was caught in January.
The Burmese pythons have been joined in the swamps by other discarded pets: African pythons and assorted constrictors. They are rapidly vacuuming the Everglades clean of native wildlife: raccoons, opossums, bobcats, marsh and cottontail rabbits, deer, foxes, and endangered wood rats and wood storks. One python even tried to eat a live alligator.
The National Park Service says that in areas where the snakes are known to be active, sightings of medium-size mammals have dropped by as much as 99 percent.
It's not hard to envision what happens next. With their prey exhausted, the snakes will begin moving out of the Everglades in search of food -- pets, for example. Florida Sen. Bill Nelson says snakes don't belong in the Everglades in the first place, "and they certainly don't belong in people's backyards."
The state and the federal government have spent millions trying to exterminate the snakes and are resigned to simply try to keep them confined to the Everglades. The fear, however, is that they will spread statewide and into Georgia and Louisiana. Cold weather is a barrier, but the snakes have proved remarkably adaptive.
The battle against invasive species always seems to come too late. The upper Midwest is already afflicted with zebra mussels and sea lampreys. The cost of protecting the Great Lakes from Asiatic carp that escaped from Mississippi fish farms is estimated at around $9.5 billion.
In January, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, under the Obama administration, finally issued a ban on importing or taking across state lines Burmese pythons, yellow anacondas and northern and southern African pythons.
The administration found itself up against a surprisingly strong reptile lobby. According to figures collected by The Washington Post, the reptile trade is a $2 billion business in the United States, with 11 million reptiles kept as pets and more reptiles imported into the United States than anywhere else in the world.
If the snakes can't be eradicated, they have to be controlled. Soon, wearing shoes, belts, jackets, suitcases and hatbands made from Burmese-python skin may not be a fashion statement. It will be a civic duty.
Editorial by Dale McFeatters, Scripps Howard News Service