January 19th, 2013 by James Ayre
The “2013 Python Challenge” was recently begun in order to hopefully cut down on the number of incredibly invasive Burmese pythons living in the Florida Everglades. The competition, sponsored by The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, began on January 12, 2013, but so far has resulted in the death of very few pythons, only 21.
The competition, which lasts until February 16th, was designed to drum up public interest by offering cash prizes, $1500 to the hunter that catches the most and $1000 to the hunter that catches the biggest one.
There are an estimated 15,000 – 180,000 pythons in the Everglades, and very likely on the high end of that estimate. They are found throughout all of the Everglades National Park, Big Cypress National Preserve, and have been seen far north of the parks’ boundaries.
They effect that they have had on native wildlife is enormous. “According to a study released last year, sightings of raccoons, opossums, bobcats, rabbits and other mammals in the Everglades are down as much as 99 percent in areas where pythons are known to live.”
When combined with the effect that invasive wild boars, feral cats, and nutria, are having on the Everglades, pythons have done very significant damage to the native ecosystem. Deforestation in the region has also done significant damage. Large tracts of the Everglades, as much as 60%, have been drained in the past 50 or so years to make land for golf courses, agriculture, and suburbs.
So eliminating the pythons from the environment has been an important goal for the last few years, but they can be incredibly difficult to find.
“When these snakes are in the water, in the vegetation, they blend in naturally to where you can’t hardly see them,” said state wildlife commissioner Ron Bergeron.
Compounding their natural camouflage, is the fact that out of the 1,000 or so people participating in the hunt, most are amateurs.
And in addition to not catching many pythons, the hunters haven’t come across any of the previously endemic mammal life either… The signs of mammals that they have found is of feral hogs, also an invasive species.
“Rabbits were like rats. Growing up, you saw them everywhere,” said Jim Howard, a Miami native and a python permit holder participating in the contest. “I haven’t seen a rabbit in 20 years. I don’t see foxes. I hardly see anything.”
But what he has seen, and caught, “is a python in the Everglades in each of the last two years. Each was more than 12 feet long and contained more than 50 eggs.”
According to officials, though, the hunt has primarily been in order to gather new data that will help in combating them. (To my mind, it sounds like they are there to stay, it may not be worth the resources to try to wipe them out.)
“The state hopes to use the information from python necropsies – particularly what’s in their stomachs – to improve their attempts at dealing with the snakes.”
“The population of Burmese pythons, an invasive species in Florida, likely developed from pets released into the wild, either intentionally or in the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew in 1992. They can grow to be more than 20 feet long and have no natural enemies in Florida other than very large alligators or cold weather, which drives heat-seeking snakes onto sunny roads and levees.”
“Florida prohibits owning or selling pythons for use as pets, and federal law bans importation and interstate sale of the species.” Though they also have programs to take them back if you do have them.
The Everglades themselves are on a permanently downward trend though. In addition to further human encroachment, depleting groundwater resources, and invasive species, there are also extremely high levels of mercury and nitrate pollution, which have been implicated in the deaths of many large predators, such as the extremely endangered Florida panther.
Source: Huffington Post
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