Officials announce end of import and interstate trade of pythons
January 17, 2012
MIAMI - Even when Burmese and Rock pythons started turning up in the Everglades in large numbers a few years ago, most folks laughed off the threat from the huge, non-native snakes as just another Florida nuisance - little worse than some swamp acreage salesman. But not the state’s senior U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson. Not the nation’s interior secretary. And today, the general public’s nonchalance has vanished too.
That’s in part because just a few months ago a 16-foot python ate a 76-pound deer in the Everglades. And, shortly after Christmas, a family in South Florida found a huge python in their pool. Not to mention, people are still clicking on the web picture of the 13-foot python that actually devoured a live 6-foot alligator.
For the past three years, Nelson has pushed for a ban on the sale and importation of the dangerous snakes. Today, he got his wish from the nation’s land czar. At a news conference in the Everglades shortly after 9 a.m., Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced a rule against the importation and interstate trade of four large exotic snakes – Burmese pythons, Northern and Southern African rock pythons and the Yellow anaconda. Salazar was joined by Nelson and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe.
Interior and its state partners, including the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the South Florida Water Management District, said they’re committed to controlling the spread of Burmese pythons and other large constrictors. The wildlife commission recently approved the use of a “snake sniffing” dog to help find large constrictors. The dog – and a 13-foot python – were present at the announcement today.
“These snakes sure-as-heck don’t belong in the Everglades,” Nelson said. “And they certainly don’t belong in people’s backyards.”
Nelson filed a bill to ban pythons three years ago. But a small-yet-powerful lobby of reptile keepers stalled the legislation — although Nelson did get colleagues’ attention when he unrolled the skin of a 17-footer killed in the Everglades during a July 2009 congressional hearing. It was that same month that a 2-year-old Central Florida girl was killed in Sumter County by an 8 1/2-foot-long albino Burmese python – a family pet.
By enacting a rule and declaring the snakes “injurious,” Salazar eliminates the need for congressional approval of a ban.
“Thanks to the work of our scientists, Senator Bill Nelson, and others, there is a large and growing understanding of the real and immediate threat that the Burmese python and other invasive snakes pose to the Everglades and other ecosystems in the United States,” Salazar said today. “The Burmese python has already gained a foothold in the Florida Everglades, and we must do all we can to battle its spread and to prevent further human contributions of invasive snakes that cause economic and environmental damage.”
Added Ashe, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service director, “Burmese pythons have already caused substantial harm in Florida. By taking this action today, we will help prevent further harm from these large constrictor snakes to native wildlife, especially in habitats that can support constrictor snake populations across the southern United States and in U.S. territories.”
Pythons - believed to have been introduced to the swamps of Florida by pet owners who decided to free their imported reptiles into the wild - have caused a major problem for the Everglades' ecosystem, according to published accounts. Some of the snakes are traced back to reptiles that escaped after Hurricane Andrew swept through the area in 1992. They compete with natural predators and kill other species indigenous to one of America's most unique national parks.
Recent reports found pythons now have the ability to swim from the Everglades to the Florida Keys. The study, conducted by researchers with the U.S. Geological Survey, shows pythons can tolerate saltwater for at least the duration of such a swim.
It is under the federal Lacey Act that the Interior Department is authorized to regulate wildlife determined to be injurious not only to humans, but also agriculture, horticulture or forestry. For more information on injurious wildlife please visit: http://www.fws.gov/invasives/news.html.