To paraphrase Samuel L. Jackson, Florida has had it with all these (bleeping) snakes.
The state wildlife commission created the great Burmese python hunt of 2013. Launched amid great fanfare in mid-January, the event has drawn more than a thousand snake hunters from all over the country. But so far, it’s been something of a bust. With just a week or so to go, the hunt has netted only 41 dead snakes out of the thousands believed to be hiding in the Florida Everglades.
On The Daily Rundown, Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson admitted it’s all but impossible to wipe them out. “The only way that we’re going to get rid of ‘em, believe it or not, is cold weather,” he says. “The superintendent of the Everglades National Park told me there may be as many as 150,000 of them.”
Managing the python population won’t be much easier. The snakes, first identified in the Everglades in 2007, are believed to be the descendants of snakes set free in the swamps by their owners. Now, they’ve found a home in the south Florida climate–akin to their native Southeast Asia. The Burmese pythons, now considered a “conditional species” in south Florida, have become adept at hiding in the region’s dense swamps and sawgrass and equally adept at eating everything in sight.
“These snakes are at the top of the food chain,” says Nelson. Known to grow up to 26 feet in length and weigh in at some 200 lbs., the pythons eat small mammals like rabbits and foxes, as well as larger species like bobcats, wild hogs and alligators. A research study released in 2010 found that 25 different species of birds, including endangered storks, had also been detected inside the bodies of dead pythons.
For years, Nelson pushed legislation to crack down on the sale and trafficking of big snakes, even bringing a 16-foot snake skin into the Senate in 2009 to help make his case. The legislation was blocked by pet store owners so Nelson turned to the Interior Department, successfully lobbying for a federal ban on the importing and sale of Burmese pythons, African pythons and yellow anacondas.
The Florida Democrat says he’s not done trying to crack down on the invasive species. “We’ve got to allow hunting in the Everglades National Park. We haven’t been able to hunt there,” Nelson says, noting that the current hunt is being conducted only in certain areas of the park. We have to “keep looking for methods by which we can find these snakes,” he says. “Otherwise they’re going to take over the Everglades.”