PREVIOUS COVERAGE | Python’s owner – if there is one – remains a mystery

skennedy@bradenton.comJuly 28, 2009 

MANATEE — She was officially dubbed “Sweetie” on Monday, but that’s about all anybody learned about the 14-foot Burmese python who underwent a computer scan at a veterinarian’s office in an unsuccessful effort to determine the name of an owner.

As television cameras whirred all around, veterinarian L.M. Tana, of Bayshore Animal Hospital on Florida Boulevard, used a hand-held scanner in an attempt to find a microchip that would identify the owner of the snake, which was wrangled from a culvert Saturday near a Sweetbay Supermarket.

But there was none.

So Justin Matthews, owner and president of Matthews Wildlife Rescue and Education in Bradenton, planned to take her in and use her as an educational tool, he said.

The python was hiding in a culvert in the area of 51st Avenue and 33rd Street East, within sight of a day care center and in a populated suburban neighborhood.

Once a python reaches a certain size, its owner is required by law to implant a identifying microchip, officials said. But the law just went into effect last year, and not all pet owners have complied so far, they said.

The snake might also be among tens of thousands of the non-native species that have spread across the state inadvertently.

“The only thing I can say is it’s really unsafe for animals and children,” said Andrea Regnier, a resident of the Manatee Oaks neighborhood, near where the python was found this past weekend.

“I hope they find out who let it go,” said her husband, Ed, who said he has seen many snakes in his backyard, but no pythons.

“We’ve got a jungle out back, and a brook out there, so I see a lot of them.”

Earlier this month, a 9-foot Burmese python strangled 2-year-old Shaiunna Hare in Sumter County. The reptile was the pet of her mother’s boyfriend and had escaped its cage, police said.

Those who own pythons as pets must get a permit from the state that costs $100 annually, provide an escape-proof cage and an evacuation plan in the event of natural disaster, and have a microchip implanted in the reptile with identifying information, wildlife authorities said.

The snakes, which are a non-native species and have no natural predators here, have spread through the Everglades, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Web site.

“These snakes are a threat to the environment and nature, and to pets and native wildlife,” said Gary Morse, a spokesman for the commission, which manages the state’s fish and wildlife resources.

The commission this year issued permits to certain herpetologists to search for and euthanize Burmese pythons on state-managed lands from July 17-Oct. 31 in an effort to halt their spread, said Patricia Behnke, another commission spokesperson.

Approximately 112,000 of the Asian snakes, which can grow to a length of 26 feet and weigh more than 200 pounds, have been imported into the United States since 1990, the commission’s Web site said. The National Park Service reported the removal of 311 Burmese pythons from the Everglades in 2008, it said.

A reporter asked what Matthews thought about having such snakes in populated areas,

“Well, it’s horrible,” said Matthews, “You know for a small child, especially, to run up on that snake. The small child is food; the snakes are not the type of creatures that are going to bite and say, ‘Whoa I’ve got a human, I’ve got to let go.’ They’re going to continue and they’re going to swallow you. The snake can swallow probably a 7-year-old child, easily.”

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