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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 02-07-2013, 06:40 PM   #1
Florida's big python hunt going out with a whimper

* Invasive species notoriously evasive

* Just 50 snakes killed or captured with only days left in hunt

* Population believed to have grown to as many as 150,000

MIAMI, Feb 7 (Reuters) - A nearly month-long hunt for Burmese pythons in Florida's Everglades was wrapping up this week with little to show for the efforts of more than 1,500 would-be snake slayers armed with everything from clubs and machetes to firearms and spears.

A spokeswoman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which organized the hunt, known as the Python Challenge, said on Thursday that only 50 Burmese pythons had been reported captured or killed as part of the event.

That means the hunt, which kicked off with great fanfare on Jan. 12 and ends on Sunday, barely put a dent in the population of non-native snakes that have made a home and breed in the fragile Everglades wetlands.

Officials have said previously that the population is believed to have grown to as many as 150,000. The snakes are one of the largest species in the world and native to Southeast Asia. But they found a home to their liking in the Everglades when pet owners started using the wetlands as a convenient dumping ground.

Wildlife biologists say the troublesome invaders, which are notoriously evasive and have no known predators in Florida, have become a major pest and pose a significant threat to endangered species like the wood stork and Key Largo woodrat.

"They are very well camouflaged and you can literally be practically right on top of them without being able to see them," said Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokeswoman Carli Segelson.

"They are very evasive," she added. "It's kind of luck of the draw, if you just happen to be in the right place at the right time when one of these things is out there."

The state wildlife agency was offering prizes of $1,500 for the most pythons captured or killed as part of the hunt and $1,000 for the largest python. The prizes are due to be announced at an awards ceremony set for Feb. 16.

Segelson said the Python Challenge, the first hunt of its kind, drew at least 1,567 hunters from across 30 states and Canada.

"I'm very happy to report that we have not heard any reports or injuries or people getting lost," she said.

A Burmese python found in Florida last year set a record as the largest ever captured in the state, at 17 feet, 7 inches. The snake weighed nearly 165 pounds (75 kg). (Reporting by Tom Brown; Editing by Dan Grebler)

Old 02-07-2013, 07:00 PM   #2
I posted this in another thread and I think it's appropriate to repost here in case people didn't see it there.

As one of the few actual wildlife biologists in this forum, I feel that I do need to explain a bit of the science behind this issue. A lot of reptile enthusiasts are understandably frustrated with the politics surrounding Burmese pythons in Florida, but let's please not confuse the actual on-the-ground science with the fear mongering on Capitol Hill.

The major challenge we as biologists face in any estimation of population size is a probability called "detectability." We can account for detectability in our statistical models if it is known, and these mathematical models are the most robust estimates we have in our statistical toolset for estimating populations. We use population estimates to manage anything from wild game (such as deer, turkeys, quail, etc.), invasive animals (Burmese pythons, feral cats, feral hogs, etc.), to recovering endangered species (spotted owls, sage-grouse, red-cockaded woodpecker, etc.).

You can think about detectability in the following context. The hunters in the audience will understand where I'm coming from, but there are plenty of non-hunting examples out there too.

I've gone hunting for feral hogs many times and have never seen one, despite their super abundance in some areas. Nobody questions that feral hogs do a great deal of damage. I've gone deer hunting for thousands of hours and have a relatively low success rate when you look at the ratio of time spent versus number of deer I've killed and seen, yet no one seems to argue that deer/vehicle collisions are a problem or that we have a lot of deer in some areas.

Invasive species are a problem. Just because the Burmese python issue has gotten a lot of fear mongering press and has a lot of political nonsense associated with it does not mean that Burmese pythons aren't a problem. They're a big snake in an area that has never had giant snakes before. It is reasonable to assume that the native wildlife is unaccustomed to being hunted by this particular brand of giant predator. Out of sight should not be out of mind.

When we (meaning wildlife biologists) are trying to estimate the number of animals in a population, our population estimates are based upon something called "detectability." If you fail to see an animal (or its sign) in the field, that failure is based upon two probabilities: 1) that you didn't observe the animal because it wasn't there, or 2) that an animal was actually there but you failed to see or "detect" it.

This hunt will, hypothetically anyway, allow biologists to increase the precision of our population estimates for Burmese python because it will allow us to estimate what that "detectability function" actually is. For a species as cryptic (aka hard to see) as a Burmese python, I can imagine detectability is very low.

For a real-world example, biologists over in Europe have estimated detection probabilities for several species of snakes. The probability of detection is highly dependent upon population size... at low population sizes, detectability is very low. The following data were taken from: http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.230...21101552516103

Detection Probabilities for 3 species of European snakes
The following probabilities are arranged for low, medium, and high population sizes:
asp viper (Vipera aspis: 23%, 50%, and 70%
smooth snake (Coronella austriaca): 9%, 45%, 56%
grass snake (Natrix natrix): 11% for small, 25% for medium/large pop'ns

Keep in mind that these detection probabilities were estimated from biologists who had search images for these species and were very good at locating snakes. These are trained professionals, not the everyday public, so their detectability estimates are likely higher than this Burmese python hunt will generate. These estimates are also for heavily surveyed individual sites, not over an entire range a species could possibly inhabit.

The take home message from all of this is that snakes are very good at hiding. We have statistical tools to estimate populations based upon real data. Is it perfect? No. However, we can't assume that just because we didn't capture a whole lot of Burmese pythons that there aren't a whole lot out there, it simply means that we may have failed to detect those that are. That's why we need to keep looking. More data = better science.

Please do not attack the scientists for trying to learn more about Burmese pythons in the everglades. Not every scientist was involved with the non-peer reviewed USGS report. It takes time to learn the answer to tough biological questions like this, and considering our current economic hardships it's been very, very difficult to get funding to do any kind of decent research. I'm glad they thought of a creative way to get their data and I have high hopes that something productive will emerge from this new information.
Old 02-07-2013, 08:09 PM   #3
Great report Vanessa. I have no problem with scientists. Or biologist s. Too bad the hero community. Couldn't have done more on it's own years ago.
Old 02-07-2013, 09:00 PM   #4
Thank you Vanessa!

Based on a loose estimate of detectability percentages, vs the 50 or so snakes removed, is it possible to refine the population estimate?

Personally, I'm surprised more snakes were not killed based on how many we've all heard there were, although I too am a seasoned hunter/outdoorsman and understand man-hours vs results. We have plenty of bobcats and a few bears here where I live and I almost never see either one.
Old 02-07-2013, 09:27 PM   #5
Joe, I know you don't have a problem with scientists, but there are a lot of people out there who think that scientists are the bad guys. In actuality, we collect data and present it, it's the politicians who run with the stuff for better or for worse. Science is logical, politics isn't.

James, I'm not entirely sure what data FL Fish and Wildlife were collecting, but if it was my study I would need to get an idea of the effort put in. For example, I would like to know the total area searched, search time, number of people searching, etc. to get an idea of snake detections per unit effort.

If you want to see how this actually works, you can read about "removal" or "depletion" population estimation. This is a very basic model and I guarantee there are far more complicated statistics being employed by far more statistically minded folks than me for Burmese pythons (note that it really doesn't include issues of initial detectability, although it somewhat covers for it by having a probability of capture in the equation). However, it does give you a basic idea of how this can work. Go to section 7.2.1 in this document to read more about it: http://www.michigandnr.com/publicati...0Chapter07.pdf

At this stage the estimates are going to be rather crude simply because detectability seems to be so low, we just need to know if it's low because the animals aren't there or if it's because we just can't find the ones that are there very easily. In statistics sample size means everything, and without adequate numbers it's really hard to make any sort of refined population estimates, but with more information coming in all the time our estimates will only get better.
Old 02-07-2013, 10:12 PM   #6
Thank you again Vanessa!
Old 02-08-2013, 12:12 AM   #7
Dale Porcher DVM
What I would like to know

How many indigenous snakes were killed in error by the predominantly poorly trained Python hunters?
Old 02-08-2013, 02:08 AM   #8
Please, equatorial reptile wil not survive in North America. They only got 50 because they aren't there. Are there a 150,000 in South Asia even? My burmese get sick and will not breed if exposed to temps below 65 degrees for any length of time. It froze for two months in 2010 and '11. Is it not possible that if a few hardy individuals survived and reproduced that we would be looking at the evolution of a new North American subspecies that would hibernate and be much smaller? Just don't see how this species could survive here, wouldn't boas have found there way here long ago? The Cuban boa is capabale of 10' + and is right around the corner.
Old 02-08-2013, 01:17 PM   #9
CMB Reptiles
Originally Posted by Dale Porcher DVM View Post
How many indigenous snakes were killed in error by the predominantly poorly trained Python hunters?
Old 02-08-2013, 01:24 PM   #10
CMB Reptiles
How do you conclude whether a species in an area is evasive, or just going extinct due to the different patterns of a temperate winter? I'm sure it has been looked at already, but I hear the pythons mainly started to build up after Hurricane Andrew? Were the winters after the storm successively mild? Perhaps this allowed to build up the population by coincidence. And a cold winter or two will bring them right back down to zero.

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