Giant Burmese Python Caught in Florida's Eradication Program
TALLAHASSEE, Florida, July 17, 2009 (ENS) - Florida has a problem with giant Burmese pythons released into the wild by disenchanted pet owners, and today, the first day of the state's 2009 eradication program a team of volunteer snake catchers bagged one of the big constrictors.

Armed with snake hooks and nets, a group of reptile experts selected by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to participate in the state's python eradication permit program captured a 9-foot, 8-inch python.

The volunteer permit holders spotted the exotic snake in water underneath a boardwalk leading to a camp on a tree island. It was later euthanized.

Florida wildlife officials and a permit holder display the captured 9'8" Burmese python. July 17, 2009 (Photo courtesy FWC)

"Honestly, I was surprised. I did not expect to see a Burmese python today," said Shawn Heflick of Palm Bay, one of the permit holders. "We hope our success today helps us establish connections with airboat operators and sportsmen out here in the 'Glades. They can tell us where these snakes are, so we can go out and find them."

The FWC's Burmese python permit program kicked off Friday. It allows permit holders to search for pythons on several Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission wildlife management areas and lands managed by the South Florida Water Management District.

"Today's success in the field points to the professionalism and experience of our permit holders," said FWC Chairman Rodney Barreto. "We thank Governor Charlie Crist for supporting this program. Today's outcome shows that we do have a serious Burmese python problem, and this program is a good first step in helping to stop the spread of this exotic species."

To date, the FWC has issued permits to five people to participate in the program. Permit holders must already have a Reptile of Concern permit. The FWC screens them before issuing permits for participation in this program.

When permit holders capture and euthanize a python, they must report its GPS location and take a digital photo of the carcass. They must also fill out a data collection sheet and submit it to the FWC. If they wish to do so, permit holders may sell the snake's hide and meat.

The python permit program runs from July 17 to October 31, when the FWC will evaluate the data collected and determine if it should extend or expand the program.

Burmese pythons have been reported from the saline glades and mangroves at the south end of Everglades National Park since at least the 1980s.

The big constrictor snakes prey on mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish and in turn they become food for American alligators.

In total, about 100 Burmese pythons of all sizes plus at least one gravid female have now been collected from Everglades National Park, and two fights between pythons and alligators have been documented.

At least three pythons have been collected from Collier-Seminole State Park, Collier County. Pythons have been found as far east as Krome Avenue in Dade County, as far west as Hwy. 29 in Collier County, and as far north as Alligator Alley.

These snakes are native to Asia and are found from India to lower China, the Malay Peninsula, and on some islands of the East Indies, where they typically live near water. They are one of the most popular species of exotic snakes because of their reputation as gentle.

Copyright Environment News Service, ENS, 2009. All rights reserved.