Florida Python Slaughter Authorized

Yesterday, the Interior Department announced a plan to terminate Burmese pythons in the Everglades.  The plan allows “hunters the opportunity to terminate pythons, a non-game species, with the use of their firearm.”  Already Floridians are taking it upon themselves to drive over pythons they see in the road.  Certainly Burmese pythons are a devastating addition to the South Florida eco-system, but the python population, which is estimated to exceed 150,000 snakes, would seem to be regrettably permanent.  If that’s the case, then the proposal’s bounty hunting provisions are not an effective effort to protect an eco-system, but rather a tropical wolf hunt

Since there would appear to be no one on the side of the snakes, I’ll take a shot at it.  I would like to limit dispatching of snakes to techniques that have been proved humane.  Killing by inhumane means should result in a civil or criminal penalty.  Second, I notice that officials rarely refer publicly to the extent of the problem even though in private conversations with me and others they will relate how the populations are already so large as to be impossible to fix. (Note there are no population estimates in Secretary Salazar’s press release.)   Estimates on Burmese python populations should be regularly published so that we can monitor whether we are truly making a difference in the population or instead satisfying some less admirable urge. 

Secretary Salazar Announces Renewed Commitment, Expanded Programs to Eliminate Pythons from Everglades

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today announced today [sic] that the National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in partnership with the State of Florida and other stakeholders, are renewing their commitment and expanding existing programs to eliminate Burmese pythons from the Everglades.

“Burmese pythons are an invasive species that have no place in the Everglades and threaten its delicate ecosystem,” Salazar said. “We are committed to aggressively combating this threat, including having trained and well-supervised volunteers hunt down and remove snakes.”

“I have also directed my staff to look at the possibility of allocating additional federal resources this fiscal year and I have asked federal and state agencies to work with us to quickly develop an action plan to control this invasive species,” he said.

The Burmese python (Python molurus), a large exotic snake, is well-established in the Everglades. Everglades National Park, Big Cypress National Preserve, and the Water Conservation Areas, represent the core areas of the python infestation.

As effective predators, pythons are having negative impacts on native species in the Everglades ecosystem. Because of the serious threat posed by pythons, the National Park Service (NPS), Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), along with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the South Florida Water Management District, and many other partners are actively engaged in a large variety of potential python control efforts.

Pythons are cryptic animals – they blend into their environments extremely well – making them difficult to efficiently locate and capture. Most python sightings and captures occur in developed areas, such as roads and canal levees, which comprise only a small percentage of potential python habitats.

Pythons have been observed within the largely inaccessible and remote mangrove forests of the parks. Conservatively, scientists believe that only small fractions (0.1-5%) of pythons present on NPS lands are detected. Given these challenges, the National Park Service and Fish and Wildlife Service have recognized the need to consider and implement a comprehensive, multi-pronged approach to python control. These efforts include:

Expansion of an authorized agent python capture program – For several years, NPS has partnered with up to a dozen experienced and highly motivated volunteer authorized agents that have removed hundreds of pythons. Data from these captures has been invaluable to park biologists in developing other control tools and assessing impact this invasive snake is having on native resources. The NPS is working on expanding the authorized agent program to provide more thorough and regular efforts to remove pythons. The Park Service is also working closely with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to evaluate the State’s pilot bounty permit system and consider its appropriateness for NPS lands.

Pilot “Partner with Hunters” Program in Big Cypress National Preserve – The NPS and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission are working together to partner with licensed hunters that hunt game species within the Preserve under Florida state law. The “Partner with Hunters” program will allow trained, qualified, and licensed hunters the opportunity to terminate pythons, a non-game species, with the use of their firearm if they come across one during the course of their normal hunting activity. The snakes will be collected by the NPS and data gathered will be used for research/ monitoring and control efforts. Existing hunting activities and supporting infrastructure, including law enforcement, hunting check stations, and use of off-road vehicles, makes the Preserve an appropriate location for piloting this program in partnership with the hunting community.

Everglades invasive animal response team – NPS is actively working with FWS and USGS to establish a Federally-funded invasive animal rapid response and control team that would provide full-time coordination among the south Florida natural resource management agencies, including field operations, science support, and educational and outreach efforts.

Cooperative workshops – FWS has organized and facilitated multi-agency workshops to address the threats posed by pythons and help prioritize and coordinate management efforts. NPS and FWS provide leadership to the Everglades Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area, a multi-agency team, to better coordinate and pool resources.

Risk Assessment and review of control methods – FWS and NPS are funding a USGS risk assessment project to help define the nature of the threat and develop biological/management profiles for nine large constrictor snakes. The risk assessment will contain information that has broad application to the management of pythons and other large exotic constrictors in the U.S.

Study of python movements and habitat use – NPS is working with USGS, University of Florida, and Davidson College to understand python movement and habitat use in the Everglades. These efforts, including radio tracking snakes to allow scientists to follow them, often finding other snakes, and providing critical information to formulate effective control programs.

Python trap and attractant development – NPS and FWS are funding development of an effective python trap and lure along with USGS, University of Florida, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In addition, NPS is cooperating with an NGO to conduct preliminary research on python pheromones which may someday be used as an attractant for trapping. Prototype traps are deployed in North Key Largo in hopes of halting the spread of pythons to the Florida Keys and traps will soon be deployed in known python concentrations around Everglades National Park.

Unmanned aerial vehicles and thermal imaging – NPS is working with USGS and the University of Florida to test small, remotely operated airplanes and heat-detecting sensors for use in detecting pythons in the Everglades. These technologies may be useful to detect and aid in the capture of pythons in their natural habitats.

Diet Studies – NPS, in conjunction with the University of Florida and the Smithsonian Institution, is analyzing gut contents of captured pythons and identifying prey items to better understand the python’s impacts on native species.

Mercury bioaccumulation studies – NPS has partnered with USGS to understand mercury concentrations in python tissue because high mercury concentrations may pose a risk to human health if pythons are consumed. This information is critical to inform the current development of python collecting and hunting programs.

Reporting mechanisms – NPS established a python hotline for public reporting of python observations.

Education and outreach – NPS and FWS have worked cooperatively with our partners at the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the South Florida Water Management District to develop signs that remind the public that release of snakes and other exotics is a crime. We have implemented the “Don’t Let It Loose” public and school education campaign and endorsed Habitatitude to promote responsible pet ownership. NPS recently printed and distributed over 450,000 copies of “Florida Invaders” to educate the public about the threat of invasive nonnative plants and animals. The FWS and NPS participated in the recent State-sponsored Non-native Pet Amnesty Day event held at the Miami Zoo educating the public about pythons and other non-native invasive wildlife.

“The removal of invasive pythons from the Everglades in a key step in our larger ecosystem restoration efforts,” said Dan Kimball, superintendent, Everglades National Park. “Our success will fully depend on how well we can cooperate, partner, learn from each other, and maintain a high level of commitment to addressing this problem in the long term.”

“Eliminating these exotic pythons in Florida will require a full partnership between federal and state agencies and with the assistance from trained members of the public,” said Pedro Ramos, superintendent, Big Cypress National Preserve. “These joint efforts will provide vital information on the animals’ movement, habitat use, food sources and other information which will aid in future improvements of eradication methods.”

“Addressing the python threat requires a broad partnership with many strategies,” said Paul Souza, South Florida Ecological Services field supervisor for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “There is no one silver bullet. We are committed to continuing our work with our partners in the State of Florida to make headway on this
significant challenge.”

Together, the NPS, FWS, and their partners will continue their efforts to implement a variety of python management efforts to control and hopefully eradicate the Burmese python in south Florida. 
 
  — DOI —

Date: July 16, 2009
Contacts: Hugh Vickery, DOI, (202) 208-6416
David Hallac, Everglades, (305)224-4239
Ron Clark, Big Cypress (239) 695-1106
Art Roybal, FWS, (772) 562-3909

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5 Responses to “Florida Python Slaughter Authorized”

  1. Chris Says:

    Please look at it this way. What if these snakes you love were the native species and a different animal was consuming them and every day as the population grew more pythons were eaten and the existence of the python was at stake? If that were the case I would support the python but not in this situation. Any means possible.

  2. Bryan Christy Says:

    thanks for your take Chris. It’s a good way to test how I feel about the topic, and I would put it back to you regarding the spp. you care most about, would you want them killed by “any means possible?”

    “Any means” is almost never the right answer. Humane choices yield humane results, a lesson that applies to more than just pythons.

  3. Jeff Says:

    Bryan,

    I think the 150,00 number is a bit inflated – it is extrapolated from varied data sets and may not reflect real populations – the range is generally given as 30,000 to over a 100,000. The idea that any animal reproduces exponentially is based on a faulty model – these animals do have predators in the Everglades that prey on the young mostly, but alligators have been observed eating larger adult Burmese pythons. Animals with high fecundity generally don’t provide care for the offspring which leads to high mortality of the young. No animal can exceed the carrying capacity of the environment for any length of time (with the exception of man) – so there are limits to the population. Perhaps these limits are poorly understood, but they do exist. Our native species are well adapted to dealing with predators – large and squamate. Our native species also prey on endangered species and I know of no way to prevent this. Roadways and other alterations to the environment act as barriers to many species and bring gene flow to a trickle if not a stop – it might be the same with the Burmese population. The population has also been affected by the recent cold with mortality estimates from as mow as 50% to as high as 70% and by some accounts even higher.

    I would agree that humanely dispatching the animals is the most appropriate method. I would argue that “any means” may not really mean any means. I have seen a few hunters using methods that I don’t approve of and have offered suggestions and training to prevent these sort of actions. I don’t know if these measures offer a complete solution to the problem of pythons in the Everglades, but they will help to control the population and migration of the Burmese to adjacent areas. Humans have proven quite effective at extirpating species in general, perhaps there will be some success in this endeavor. I have mixed feelings about the entire process – I have a deep appreciation of reptiles and Burmese Pythons are a magnificent animal, however the Everglades is suffering a death of a thousand cuts and removal of this species will benefit the native fauna in the long run.

    Jeff

  4. Bryan Christy Says:

    Excellent commentary. Thanks, Jeff.

    Bryan

  5. cole Says:

    C’mon you guys. We aren’t talking about Fighting dogs her or something like that. We are talking about an apex predator that has the potential to kill and eat a full grown alligator. This is a very serious problem for the wildlife that we currently have in Florida. Is it really going to take one of these beasts eating a child for us to see how serious this roblem is. If you had a rat infestation in you house would you kindly ask them to leave or escort them out? No. You would kill them by any means possible, and as the earlier commentor stated, humans are great at eradicating species. It’s just a fact. I say get out of their way and let them do what they do. These things have to go.