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The Pitiful Python Parade

Posted by Danny Mendez on December 6, 2012 at 11:55 PM

This week, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) announced the “2013 Python Challenge”. According to the release, “the goal of the event is to increase public awareness about Burmese Pythons and how the invasive species is a threat to the Everglades Ecosystem, including native wildlife”.

How would FWC do this you ask? By encouraging the public to assist FWC in helping them remove pythons from public lands in South Florida via a month-long harvest which kicks off on January 12th. Essentially, the state is inviting anyone to come on down and catch or preferably kill a wild Burmese python. As many of are probably aware, the Burmese Python became an introduced species into relatively small pockets of South Florida and has been the source of a lot of media hype and attention especially in light of recent legislative action attempting to restrict the transport and ownership of this speciesnationwide.

In recent weeks, several organizations including the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) have sponsored attempts to make the transport and ownership of Burmese Pythons and several large constrictors illegal. For years now, we have heard State officials warn the public of the danger that these gigantic invaders pose and in recent hearings there was testimony that it’s feared the presence of the pythons are keeping people out of the Everglades. Why then, would these state agencies now advocate for the general public to seek out these ambush predators in the wilds of the Florida Everglades? For years, only Florida residents who had undergone specific training to receive an official “Python Hunter” license were allowed to actively hunt these snakes because of the perceived danger involved. Now FWC is actively campaigning for people to run amuck in the ‘glades with little python hunting experience in hopes that they will not slaughter every snake on sight due to a prejudice involving cash incentives. The logic of this type of conservation attempt escapes me, it really does. I mean, if the overall health of the everglades ecosystem is the paramount concern here…then shouldn’t someone focus on the real blight affecting the everglades, which is most definitely Big Sugar.

The sugar industry has singlehandedly decimated the everglades with rampant disregard for its flora or fauna and the repercussions will be felt permanently even if the entire industry was shut down today. Aside from its physical footprint, the Sugar Cane industry has slowly choked out the majority of the Everglades and the rampant use of fertilizers and destruction of vital filtering plants have already scarred and in many cases killed the ecosystem. Much faster and more destructive than perhaps all invasive species combined. Truth of the matter is, no one will ever admit this because it all comes down to how much money is paid to avoid attention on the problem. In the case of recent hearings involving HR511 you can best bet that the people speaking out against the pet industry had no personal interest in our pet snakes whatsoever. They could care less what snakes we choose to keep. Those people were up there arguing that day because they are paid to do that by organizations with other interests. That’s what it all comes down to really, is who pays the most money or what favor is owed to whom.

At this point it’s obvious that FWC cannot see that two wrongs, don’t’ make a right. Staging an event that encourages an open hunt will only bring more problems than solutions. People unfamiliar with the area’s local wildlife may not be adept at identifying fast moving snakes and kill with reckless abandon putting threatened species at risk. Even if one does happen to find a large python, capturing a wild snake that size is not something that should be taken lightly. Someone unskilled at capturing and restraining large snakes can & will be seriously injured and this will only add to the hype of the invading Everglades monster serpents.

January through February is a time of overwintering for many species that normally live on a limited metabolic reserve. Being disturbed by unknowing hunters/hikers and burning unnecessary calories or being exposed to suboptimal temperatures and stress can mean the difference between life and death for some native species. Not that many protected or endangered species reside in the Everglades during that time of the year right?

The biggest issue I have with this is the fact that there is a $1,500 bounty for the largest & most snakes. All of a sudden this is starting to smell like the Sweetwater Rattlesnake Roundups to me. It’s almost gaining the same mentality already from some of the comments I’ve read on other websites. When you start offering bounties on living animals things just tent to go awry, history has taught us this many times over. I mean, the eradication of wild, invasive pythons is a good thing but when you involve money and human nature it’s a mix that easily corrupts even a good intention. I can totally see someone bringing in large captive animal (perhaps starved & kept sub optimally for a few weeks to fit the bill) as a ringer to collect the hefty reward. I can also see this as a way for irresponsible pet owners to get rid of their unwanted snakes. I think this also sets things up for inaccuracies to occur. Animal rights groups can easily take this opportunity to inflate numbers and occurrences of wild pythons to further the pet legislation agenda.

If FWC is so desperate for help, how about calling upon the very people that are often erroneously blamed for the establishment of the pythons?

The Pet experts.

I’m sure members of the reptile industry and advanced hobbyists would be more than happy to help capture and humanely euthanize these animals in collaboration with FWC and with a hell of a lot more respect for the environment and its amazingnative herpetofauna.

But instead of opening up some channels of communication, the Python hunt of 2013 will end up being a media spectacle, further establishing a negative image that so many people familiar with these wonderful serpents are trying to dispel. All snakes captured will be depicted as aggressive, invading aliens and further attempts at legislating the reptile hobby will succeed. I for one am very disappointed with this event and the FWC decision to hold it. I am not against hunting the pythons since they are indeed invasive but I feel that it needs to be done correctly, especially if the protection of the Everglades habitat and its native fauna & flora are the common goal as is being depicted.

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Reply Ryan McVeigh
10:15 AM on December 7, 2012 
I completely agree. This is only going to make a spectacle of the "problem" they make so public via the media. On top of it, I completely agree that the numbers will be skewed by people bringing in pet or unwanted pythons to get the prize. A 20 foot male normal burmese has a low monetary value, but now it's worth $1,500, what do you think people will do. On top of all of this, they are focusing on the SMALLEST PROBLEM to the Everglades. What about feral hogs and cats as well. Cats do exponentially more damage, and hogs are phenomenally more dangerous to people. I especially think that things will get ridiculous as these "hunters" realize there aren't many to be found anymore, and start making up ways to find them. Since the freeze in 2009 only a handful have been found and most licensed python hunters have quit trying. However, I bet they find a ton of them during this event......just not from the Everglades. This is just pathetic, especially for an organization who's goal is to regulate the environment and the fauna of a state.
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