The Burmese python is one of the largest snakes in the world, known to grow more than 18 feet in length. Native to Southeast Asia, the python is considered threatened in that region. In Florida, however, the snakes are thriving and their ballooning populations are becoming increasingly dangerous for the native species of the Everglades.
Here in the United States, the Burmese python is an invasion species thought to have been introduced to the region by pet owners in the 1990s. Everglades National Park officials have reported that the snakes hunt and kill alligators and other endangered native species and, as Rodney Barreto, chairman of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, noted, "they have no enemies once they get past six feet long."
One proposed solution is regulated hunting of the snakes. Several groups in Florida are lobbying for a state-sponsored bounty to encourage population reduction efforts. Supporters of the python-hunting plan point to the successes bounty hunting of nutria, a large invasive rodent found in Louisiana, have had in that state.
Like so many environmental issues, this one is not as simple as it seems. First, there is the long and controversial history of hunting "nuisance species," including native ones like cougars and wolves, in the United States. Then there are the challenges of administering a bounty program which include waiving hunting and gun possession prohibitions in a national park, establishing a value system for dead pythons, and simply finding the funds in tight state budget. Even if all these issues are resolved, the fact remains that finding Burmese pythons in the dense growth of the Everglades is a nearly impossible proposition.
Still, many people in Florida maintain that a hunting program is the best policy. When asked about the problems of the bounty proposition, Ron Bergeron, a state wildlife commissioner, commented that "if we can send someone to the moon, we can figure out how to get rid of a snake."
Perhaps he is right. The only thing missing from a successful management plan might be a little motivation.
Find out more about issues affecting the Everglades in Focus Earth: June 13, 2009: Everglades Nevermore and Snake Invaders.