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Herps In The News Local or national articles where reptiles or amphibians have made it into the news media. Please cite sources.

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Old 03-30-2006, 11:21 PM   #1
Clay Davenport
Lawmakers and scientists battle problem burms in everglades

Squeeze on for wily Burmese pythons
Six months after a string of disturbing encounters -- including a 13-foot python that tried to swallow an alligator -- lawmakers want python owners licensed.

Biologist Skip Snow has spent the last few years trying to eradicate Burmese pythons that have invaded Everglades National Park.

So he was a bit nervous about releasing four captured snakes back into the park, including one 16-foot monster. ``I didn't get much sleep that night.''

Snow and park managers can snooze more soundly now because the last snake -- each implanted with radio trackers -- was bagged last week after three months of free-range slithering. The snakes not only gave researchers a better grasp of python habits, but the ''Judas animals'' also led them to a dozen more.

The experiment was part of a widening campaign by the park, state lawmakers, wildlife managers and even the pet trade to put the squeeze on the spread of a group of big, bad reptiles in Florida.

On Wednesday, a House committee in Tallahassee approved a bill that would require owners to obtain an annual giant snake license, likely $100 a year, and make releasing them when they get too big a crime with hefty fines and potentially, jail time.

The bill would expand existing regulations for venomous snakes to a handful of exotic escapees, including Burmese, African rock, reticulated and amethystine pythons and monitor lizards.

The prime target, said bill sponsor Rep. Ralph Poppell, a Vero Beach Republican, is the impulse buyer whose little pet can stretch to six feet in a year, twice that size in two.

''It will sort of make people stop and think,'' said Poppell. ``Mom is not as likely to spend 20 bucks on a snake if it has a $100 permit with it.

State wildlife managers, who helped craft the proposal, are already worried about a surge of snake dumping and are setting up the state's first snake amnesty day -- tentatively May 6 in Orlando -- for anyone who might grow uncomfortable with pets capable, potentially, of gulping them whole.

If all goes well, other amnesty days will be offered to accommodate the estimated 5,000 people who possess problematic species.

The stepped-up snake control efforts come six months after a string of disturbing encounters -- including the macabre Everglades case of a 13-foot python that ruptured trying to swallow a six-foot alligator last September. That was followed in short order by swallowings of a turkey, then a house cat in Miami-Dade's suburban outskirts.

Park biologist Snow welcomes attention to a problem he has been watching grow for years. ``It's a long way from where we have been with a laissez-faire attitude.''

Until 2000, only about a dozen snakes were documented in the park. Over the five years since, the number shot to 236 -- with 94 counted last year alone in the park or on its rural fringes, Snow said.


While some snakes were released by irresponsible pet owners, scientists say they are also breeding in the wild.

The presence of the bone-crushing snakes got the public's and media's attention, but the real concern is for native wildlife. The snakes not only compete with them for food, they consume them. Judging by the volume of feathers that Kenneth Krysko, a herpetologist with the Florida Museum of Natural History, is finding in the gut of pythons captured in the Everglades, wading birds are at particular risk.

Perhaps the most important part of the proposed law bankrolls education efforts with a share of permit fees. Controlling snakes already in the wild is a daunting challenge, but any effort is doomed if dumping doesn't stop, scientists say.

The park already has created a ''Don't Let Them Loose'' education program with a CD, stickers and handouts -- all featuring Python Pete, a beagle that park researcher Lori Oberhofer is training to sniff out snakes. An anonymous donor even gave $8,500 to the South Florida National Parks Trust to help pay for the program.

Reptile breeders and pet store operators also have finally come to embrace the need for education, said Bill Brant, owner of The Gourmet Rodent, a large breeder of reptiles and their food in Archer, Fla.

''I think as an industry, we have come to the table too late,'' said Brant, who attended a forum of scientists, breeders, pet store owners, wildlife agencies and others last week in Gainesville to address the issue. ``I don't think we have done a good job of informing the customer of where they are headed with this animal.''

Many breeders were skeptical about the python threat. ''I think it's more of public relations problem than an environmental problem,'' said Brant. But many -- fearing an outright ban -- also back Poppell's bill, though Brant believes making illegal releases a third-degree felony is too harsh.


While lawmakers debate regulating reptiles, researchers are working to develop ways to track and trap creatures that can live in just about any Everglades habitat, wet or dry.

The radio-tracking effort was a major first step, said Snow. Researchers tracked pythons, which are most frequently spotted along roads, moving more than a half-mile into the marsh and using elevated tree islands, which are wildlife havens and often serve as bird rookeries.

The experiment also helped scientists capture a dozen other snakes. Snow said such ''Judas animal'' methods have been used to hunt other animals such as wild pigs. Still, even finding the wily wired snakes was a challenge.

The case of the big guy -- a 16-footer weighing in at just over 150 pounds -- sounds like something out of a Crocodile Hunter episode. Five researchers stood right over it in a watery slough, Snow said, but couldn't spot it in the dark water. Until it moved.

''It bumped somebody and we grabbed onto its tail,'' said Snow. ``It was very interesting.''
Old 04-03-2006, 08:38 PM   #2
In regards to this article I contacted the FWC. The snakes that are dropped off at the amnesty day will be put up for adoption. I am still waiting to find out what people need to do to adopt. Once I know more I will post the info.
Old 04-05-2006, 01:37 AM   #3

thanks for the article, was interesting.

Definitely education about how BIG some these reptiles get, is a must. Buyers need to know what they are facing in a year or two.

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