LAKE PLACID, Fla. (WALA) - Burmese Pythons can grow up to 26 ft. long and weigh more than200 lbs. Some estimates indicate there could be tens of thousandsof the snakes slithering around the Florida Everglades.That’s why the State of Florida had its first python huntingseason this year. But as it turns out, Mother Nature did a lotbetter than the hunters.
The thought of some creatures can send shivers down your spine.Snakes are on the top of that list for many people. The State ofFlorida has a serious snake problem on its hands. Giant BurmesePythons are living and breeding in the everglades. The state haseven asked hunters to help eliminate them.
What’s to prevent the pythons from eventually migratingnorth and invading our part of the coast? Fox10 News went to SouthFlorida to hunt these snakes and get answers.
When you think of Florida, it conjures up images of DisneyWorld, orange groves, beautiful beaches and stunning sunsets.Florida is also home to a truly natural wonder, the everglades. Anunwanted visitor now calls the everglades home. A creature that canreach 20 ft. and 200 lbs. Thousand of Burmese Pythons are nowthought to live here and it has state wildlife officials veryconcerned.
"It's hard to tell how the native wildlife is going to respond,but we've introduced a top predator. It has an unlimited range ofchoices for what it can eat size-wise, virtually," said BiologistScott Hardin.
The Burmese Python is native to Southeast Asia and Americansgrew a fascination for big snakes. The Port of Miami became a majorentry point for the reptile trade and breeders set up shop in SouthFlorida. Then, along came a storm and disaster struck.
"My personal conviction is Hurricane Andrew opened the floodgates for us, turned an awful lot of snakes loose in one area. Ittook a while for them to catch hold and it wasn't for several yearsthat we realized what was going on," said Hardin.
To better understand the magnitude of the problem, Fox10 Newscame to south Florida to talk to a man that the State of Floridaasked for help last summer. He's been hunting for those pythonsever since.
In the summer of 2009, the state issued permits to Greg Grazianiand a handful of other experienced professional which allowed themto capture and retain any Burmese Pythons found on the state landthat surrounds the national park. Many snakes were, in fact,caught. With each one, media attention grew and so did publicapprehension. In response, the Florida Wildlife Commission createdan open hunting season for the pythons which ran from Januarythrough mid-April.
"I don't think it's going to do a whole lot because these peoplearen't reptile people. They don't know necessarily where to look,"said Greg Graziani with Graziani Reptiles, Inc.
While they use waterways to travel, the pythons spend most oftheir time on land. They feed on a wide variety of prey and targetsmall mammals and birds. Some find it conceivable that a big snakecould target a small person, such as a child. The pythons arebrilliantly camouflaged for ambushing their prey and this makesthem very difficult to see, unless you know what to look for.
Much of the southern United States is temperate enough tosustain these pythons. Because of this, fear has spread that theycould migrate north and become a widespread problem. So, could webe facing a snake invasion along the central Gulf Coast? Expertssaid this is very unlikely. Snake hunter Greg Graziani has seen theimpact that the environment can have on the snake population.
"We don't have any scientific data showing that these animalsare going to be able to survive outside of South Florida. As amatter of fact, after this past winter, the estimates are betweenseventy five and eighty five percent of what was out there died dueto the cold," said Graziani.
Despite those assurances, some central Florida residents remainunconvinced. Tonya Lee had an experience with a Burmese Python.
"My mother-in-law, Eleanor Lee, she used to live down south andthey bought a retirement home over here and we came up one day fromdown south and there was a twelve foot python wrapped in theengine," said Tonya Lee.
Fox10 News accompanied Graziani on one of his snake hunts. Thetrip to the epicenter of the problem took us three hours south ofLake Placid to the edge of the Everglades National Park.
It wasn’t long before we found evidence of a snake. But,the snake we found is much more dangerous than the pythons we werelooking for. We saw a four foot snakeskin of an Eastern DiamondbackRattlesnake that had recently been shed. The levee we were walkingwas bordered by a canal on one side and grassy wetlands on theother. It’s an excellent environment for a variety ofreptiles. We began to feel like we were looking for a needle in ahay stack.
GPS coordinates are taken for every python that has been found.The major concentration is on the eastern edge of theeverglades.
As we neared the end of the levee and the hunt, it seemed asthough we would end up empty handed. As we were about to call itquits, Greg
made a find that all but confirms his suspicion aboutthe impact of the cold weather on Burmese Pythons. We found a deadBurmese Python that had most likely died due to the harsh winterweather.
As the sun came to rest over our trip to South Florida, manyquestions had been answered. Most importantly is that no one shouldexpect a snake invasion anywhere in the Florida panhandle orsurrounding areas.
"No sir, not at all. No, it will never happen," said Danny Greenfrom Lake Placid, Fla.
Of the dozens of Burmese Pythons that have been caught in thewild, only a few were reported to be north of Alligator Alley andall of those were thought to be pet snakes that had been released.The State of Florida had no reports of a single Burmese Pythonbeing taken by hunters during the special 2010 season.
Since no pythons were killed or captured, the past season may bethe last season. Also, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service isconsidering a ban on the import of Burmese Pythons into the U.S.,along with eight other giant constrictor snakes.
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