News Columns & Blogs

Is it too late to stop pythons?

This attempt by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to control the booming Burmese python population in south Florida is amusing.

If you haven’t heard, the commission began a permit program that allows reptile experts to capture and kill Burmese pythons in state-managed lands around the Everglades.

There are likely more than 100,000 pythons in the Everglades, some possibly more than 20 feet long.

The FWC reported in a news release that as of Friday, permit holders have captured and euthanized 17 pythons.


Only 99,987 to go.

It’s like trying to remove all the shells from the beaches. Not gonna happen.

The FWC authorized 13 permits for the program, which ends Oct. 31. At this rate, there could be 50 pythons dead.

That’s but a chink in the armor of pythons, which have no natural enemies. Even alligators have fallen prey to the python.

The FWC claimed that offering permit holders a chance to hunt the pythons could bring invaluable data to scientists to assist and stop the spread of species in Florida.

At least they’re trying.

But what could that data bring?

I don’t know how you eliminate even half of that population, unless scientists invent some poison that’s put in the water and kills only Burmese pythons. Seen stranger things happen.

But give the permit holders credit. They’re not even allowed to use firearms or traps. They can capture the snake with nets and snares and must kill the snakes with a blunt or sharp hand-held device.

According to the FWC release, the hunters report the G.P.S. location of the pythons captured and take a digital picture of the carcasses. The FWC will study the data collected, according to the release, to determine the stomach contents and location to see if the program should be extended.

If the program is extended, perhaps there should be more than 13 licensed permit holders trying to control such an immense population. Because this is not a problem that will be solved by so few. In fact, it would take hundreds of hunters who have gone through some kind of python-hunting training just to balance out the number of pythons that will spawn in April and May. But they likely would not have the time to put a dent in the populations.

Unfortunately, one of the best solutions has come far too late. The U.S. House Judiciary Committee recently approved legislation that would prohibit importation and interstate commerce of Burmese and African rock pythons, which the committee deemed the most dangerous, for the pet trade. The bill, H.R. 2811, has moved to the full House of Representatives for consideration.

We have irresponsible pet owners to thank for discarding their pythons. After a few months, or years, or whenever their little honeymoon period was over, maybe python owners decided they should have settled for something not at the top of the food chain.

Maybe a gerbil would have been a better buy. Or a hamster. Python chow. Anything that can’t take over an ecosystem and threaten the lives of animals and small children.

I think it might be a little too late to control the Burmese python.

Barring some miraculous idea, look for pythons to become more widespread.

They’re spawning, they’re elusive swimmers and climbers, and when it comes to the food chain, they’re on no one’s menu.

To close, the FWC reported in its news release that it “hopes the information collected will lead to an expansion of this initial step to help eradicate Burmese pythons in Florida.”

Eradicate Burmese pythons in Florida?

Now that’s a gut-buster.

Nick Walter, Herald outdoors writer, can be reached at 745-7013.