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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 06-12-2014, 12:14 AM   #1
Battle For The Everglades: Vets Versus Pythons

In the Florida Everglades now, it’s vets-versus-pythons, as survivors of U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wrestle with a different kind of foe: lethal Burmese pythons.

While Everglades National Park does not permit hunting, it has authorized some 30 agents--mostly private individuals--to find and capture pythons, park spokesperson Linda Friar tells ABC News. The snakes, which are not native to the park, are rapidly gobbling up small mammals, thereby reducing the number of species present, say wildlife experts.

Are pythons putting the Everglades in peril?

One agent, says Friar, is Tom Rahill, 57, who six years ago founded Swamp Apes, an outfit dedicated to helping U.S. vets get over their residual war trauma by spending time in the wild. Members of the group, he tells ABC News, volunteer to collect trash and mitigate invasive species. Those species range from plants (for example, poisonwood, which Rahill likens to “poison ivy on steroids”) to animals. By far the biggest prey they capture, he says, are Burmese pythons, which now are locked in a death-struggle with native Florida alligators to see who will be king of the food chain.

Nor are the snakes content to stay put in the park.

Oscar Corral, founder and president of Explica Media, which is making a documentary, "The Python Invasion," scheduled to be released this fall, tells ABC News that in September 2013, a python slithered into West Kendall, Florida, and killed a dog.

Says Rahill, “There’s concern about what will happen if more of them get into suburban areas and attack children or pets. It’s rare, but it’s happened. These are incredibly powerful animals, up to 11 for 12 feet long. They could kill me, if I didn’t handle them right, let alone a little kid in some back yard.”

Experts estimate that some 100,000 pythons may be living in the Everglades. Last year, the state of Florida permitted a special month-long hunt, the Python Challenge, which covered not the 2,400 square miles of the park but to other big properties managed by state agencies. Some 1,500 volunteers captured only 68 snakes.

Florida python hunt launched to curb slithering population

Rahill tells ABC News that his group, since 2008, has captured 150 snakes. Its goal, he says, is to bag at least 200 next year.

Why do the Swamp Apes succeed where other hunters have failed? Rahill thinks it has to do with two things: first, his volunteers all have military training. They are, he says, aware, focused and battle-hardened, comfortable with keeping their wits even in extreme conditions. Second, he says, those who suffer from PTSD find the disorder works to their advantage. “One characteristic of PTSD is hyper-vigilance. Being vigilant is good in the Everglades.”

The men work up to python-hunting by small degrees, he says. “There’s lots of less-dangerous invasive species. We start with chameleon-hunting, then hunting tegus (lizards that feed on crocodile eggs).” Eventually, they become qualified to deal with pythons.

Not only does the park benefit, he says, but the Apes do, too. There’s a body of evidence, including a 2013 study published in the journal "Military Medicine," that suggests time spent in the wild helps victims of PTSD surmount their trauma. Further, hunting pythons gives back to vets something that Rahill says many crave: a mission, a sense of purpose. “These are men who were told to defend the U.S. against all enemies,” he says. “When they get back home, a need for a mission is still ingrained in them, but they don’t have one.”

Biggest python in Florida snake hunt released back into the wild

In the Apes, he says, they recapture their sense of purpose. “When one of them tells me, ‘I don’t have nightmares any more, Tom,’ I get tears in my eyes,” says Rahill.

Asked if he or any of his men get paid, Rahill says no. All are unpaid volunteers, Friar confirms. The Apes’ expenses now run about $20,000 a year for equipment, gasoline and other necessities, says Rahill: “It’s all out-of-pocket for me. It’s grown to a point where I can’t afford it.”

He’s in the course of getting the Apes registered as a 5013c, so they can accept charitable donations.

What becomes of the pythons? Friar says that snakes captured in the park cannot be removed from the park; agents must turn all of them over to park wildlife biologists, who then euthanize them, perform necropsies and dispose of the remains.
Old 06-12-2014, 06:32 AM   #2
Interesting spin - in one month 1500 volunteers captured 68 Burms, which was deemed a "failure"; while in 6 yrs this group has captured 150 (which is less than 3/month), and is a "success". Sorry, but if there are 100,000 of them; I'd expect to see better numbers from a dedicated effort.
I did like how they threw in the bit about the snakes working their way north, though - I hope that the next time one is found up here, somebody says it came from the Everglades.
Old 06-12-2014, 02:36 PM   #3
That's a very creative way of helping give the Vets a sense of purpose and mission, very interesting. Thanks for sharing.
Old 06-15-2014, 08:53 PM   #4
Originally Posted by hhmoore View Post
Interesting spin - in one month 1500 volunteers captured 68 Burms, which was deemed a "failure"; while in 6 yrs this group has captured 150 (which is less than 3/month), and is a "success". Sorry, but if there are 100,000 of them; I'd expect to see better numbers from a dedicated effort.
I did like how they threw in the bit about the snakes working their way north, though - I hope that the next time one is found up here, somebody says it came from the Everglades.
I hear they can make it all the way to Maine too. Lol Wish they could get there facts right and I agree should be seeing much bigger numbers caught if there is so many!!!!!
Old 06-15-2014, 08:54 PM   #5
Sorry if there are so many.
Old 06-20-2014, 01:40 PM   #6
Special K Repti
The interesting part I do not understand is with the LARGE NUMBER of these Burmese Pythons is why no one has done a study on the obvious!! The large number of elderly living in Fla. in comparsion to the number of children & young people is that the Burmese are feeding on the younger population!! Quick someone pass this "idea" along to some university I am sure some "paid off" scientist can do a rather lengthy and totally objective report in a mere fifteen or twenty minutes if the money is "right"!!! LOL

Tim Koppenhofer
Special K Reptiles
Old 06-20-2014, 05:01 PM   #7
Looney Tunes.

They should release a number of Albino males.
In a few generations many of the hatchlings would be het Albino, or visual Albinos.
Most of the Albino hatchlings would probably not reach maturity.

IMO, This sensationalized issue is more about scoring political points, lobbyist dollars, and creating more government regulation and public sector employment, then it is about saving an ecosystem.
Old 06-25-2014, 09:02 AM   #8
My layman opinion is that the actual number of burmese (and all other non native constrictors) is probably no more than 50,000, and that of those, the vast majority of individuals are nowhere near the massive full grown potential size of a long term captive pet. Though they do pose a threat to the status quo, the people and businesses of florida do exponentially more damage to the everglades every year than the snakes could ever hope to do. The everglades are 75% smaller than they were in the 50s: that's not because of asian pythons. The introduction of large constrictors will forever change the food web there, but nature has a way of finding ballance. Homo sapiens do not. I must say that the efforts of those veterans are beneficial for all parties involved, and I hope that they find success in their endeavors.

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