Think you've seen a Burmese python or another invasive reptile? Call 1-888-IVE-GOT-1. One of 200 responders trained by The Nature Conservancy will be dispatched.
More than a dozen years ago, Burmese pythons found their way into the wilds of Florida. Once household pets, they had either escaped or were released, and today, after years of breeding, the mainland around Everglades National Park contains tens of thousands of the snakes… which often feast on rare and endangered species.
While pythons aren’t known to attack people, they are voracious and indiscriminate eaters. See a slideshow of rare species that have been found in a python's stomach.
The first Keys python was discovered alive in 2007 when researchers checking on the status of a male Key Largo woodrat wearing a radio transmitter noticed it strangely had moved more than a mile from its original documented habitat. The signal led the two researchers — a University of St. Andrews graduate student and a volunteer assistant studying federally endangered Key Largo woodrats — to a 7-1/2-foot Burmese python sunning itself. The contents of the captured snake’s stomach included not only the collared woodrat but another one as well.
To solve the issue, the Nature Conservancy in Florida launched Python Patrol in 2008. Citizens call in snake sightings (1-888-IVE-GOT-1) to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission call centers in South Florida and one of 200 responders trained by The Nature Conservancy are dispatched.
“We have 24-hour response by law enforcement in 10 counties, although anyone in Florida can leave a message,” says Cheryl Millett, the Conservancy biologist who oversees the Python Patrol. These counties include: Monroe, Miami-Dade, Collier, Hendry, Broward, Palm Beach, Glades, Martin, St. Lucie and Okeechobee. The response force is being built throughout South Florida, with more Python Patrol workshops scheduled.
“Early-detection, rapid-response is the best way to stop them from spreading,” says Millett.
To help the Conservancy’s efforts, click here to donate today.
Interesting fact: Burmese pythons often warm themselves on roads, so it makes sense their first spotters were FedEx and U.S. Postal Service drivers.
No, not your New Year’s resolution.
Treadmilling is the technique used by a trained catcher: she or he drags his or her hands, one after the other, along the underbelly of the snake to make it think it’s getting away. When the snake is tired, the capturer firmly grabs at the base of the head and avoids the writhing body getting wrapped around his or her legs. Snakes captured in the wild are securely bagged, boxed, tagged and dropped off to a designated recipient for research or training.
“We ask the responders to consider safety first and then work to tire out the snake before they capture it. Luckily these pythons tire very quickly,” Millett says.
Remember: Always call a trained responder and NEVER try this at home.
Twenty five different bird species, including the endangered wood stork, have been found in the digestive tracts of pythons in Everglades National Park, according to a March 2010 study.
In January 2012, a severe decline in a variety of mammal populations in the Everglades over the last eight years was documented in a report released by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences called Severe Mammal Declines Coincide with Proliferation of Invasive Burmese Pythons in Everglades National Park. Researchers correlated pythons with the dramatic declines in mammal numbers and noted other potential causes, like disease, are unlikely since so many species showed decline.
To reach a full-grown length of about 13 feet, one python would need to eat nearly 200 pounds of food over five years. Some captured Florida snakes have grown as large as 17 feet.
The Conservancy has long called for a more preventative and proactive approach to address the threat of invasive species.
“Right now imported species are innocent until proven guilty,” says Kris Serbesoff-King, the Conservancy’s associate director of conservation. “As a nation, we need to focus on pre-importation screening – that is to say looking at what will likely be a small number of non-native imported wildlife that could go on to be harmful to the lands and waters we are working to protect.”
The Conservancy has been working on the policy end since 2006, starting with support for the South Florida Water Management District’s petition to list the Burmese python as a federal injurious species.
In 2010, the Florida Legislature adopted a Conservancy-backed measure prohibiting personal possession of seven large constrictors and one large monitor lizard, formerly designated “reptiles of concern.” These eight reptiles, including the Burmese python, are now classified as conditional species; people who owned these reptiles before the law went into effect and followed state permitting, microchipping and caging requirements were allowed to keep the reptiles they already owned.
To help the Conservancy’s efforts, click here to donate today.
At the federal level, the Conservancy has supported efforts by Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) to advance legislation banning the importation and interstate commerce of the Burmese python.
The U.S. enacted that ban January 17, 2012 on four snakes: the Burmese python, the yellow anaconda, and the northern and southern African python. This step — to include these species in the prohibitions of the federal Lacey Act used by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to prevent and manage invasive species — is needed to reduce the number of pythons escaping from or being released into the wild by pet owners who don't understand the responsibility caring for a large python entails.
“Their native habitat compares well to the Gulf region of the southern United States,” adds Serbesoff-King.
The Conservancy has strongly backed efforts to introduce a comprehensive approach that would proactively restrict trade in animals predicted to be highly invasive — before they become established.
The Conservancy supports federal legislation to institute a preventive approach – give the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service authority to assess risks associated with imported wildlife and prohibit the importation of species likely to be invasive in the United States.
Prevention is always the most cost effective and efficient approach to addressing invasive species,” says Serbesoff-King. “It protects our native plants and animals and saves money by avoiding costly and difficult control efforts.” It would alleviate the need for a petition-by-petition listing of injurious species — a process that takes an average of four years.“
• Become familiar with distinguishing invasive from native reptiles. Free online REDDy training is available through the University of Florida and offers a certificate at end of the 40-minute free training, plus ID and reporting handouts.
• Report an invasive species sighting, including fish, at I-888-I’veGot1, www.IveGot1.org or the free iPhone App “IveGot1,” that was developed by the University of Georgia.
• Find out what to do when you can no longer care for an exotic pet.
• To help the Conservancy’s efforts, click here to donate today.April 15, 2013