PYTHONS EAT A LOT OF RACCOONS
February 5, 2012
news media are abuzz about a scientific study conducted in Everglades
National Park. The study's findings are dramatic: Native mammals everyone
is familiar with (coons, possums, rabbits, foxes) have virtually disappeared
from hundreds of square miles of southern Florida. The presumed culprit?
Burmese pythons, giant snakes people are becoming all too familiar with.
suggests that invasive Burmese pythons are having a severe, tangible
impact on the Everglades ecosystem. In response to such findings, Secretary
of the Interior Ken Salazar last month announced a U.S. ban on the importation
of Burmese pythons, which are native to Asia. Selling or transporting
them across state lines will also be illegal. Many consider the pet
trade to be the original source of the pythons now ravaging the Everglades,
the current snakes being the progeny of former pets released into the
wild when they got too big for their owners to keep. Not surprisingly,
among the most vociferous groups complaining about the new legislation,
and disputing the scientific findings, are those in the pet trade who
breed and sell pythons.
have been released in many parts of the country by bewildered pet owners
who started with a 3-foot pet snake that became a 10-foot eating machine
and who felt they had no other choice. In most places, released pythons
did not reach critical population sizes and begin to reproduce. But
in the subtropical Everglades, populations are now estimated to be in
the tens of thousands, possibly even hundreds of thousands. Few herpetologists
would argue that Burmese pythons are now part of the naturalized fauna
Burmese pythons more than 16-feet long and nearly a foot in diameter
have been found in Florida, and they will eat virtually any animal or
bird they can catch. A snake that big could easily kill a deer or an
alligator, which means, of course, it could also devour a child. That
is an unpalatable yet incontrovertible fact. They can, and they have.
you keep your children from becoming a prey item for a big python? Being
a responsible parent will pretty much take care of it. Reported U.S.
deaths have occurred indoors, not in the wild (although the potential
is always there), and they have been the consequence of pet snakes that
were improperly housed or cared for. Because of their popularity, thousands
of Burmese pythons are now pets around the country. Should we pass laws
restricting people from having captive-bred pet pythons? Absolutely
not! Not unless we make laws that keep people from having dogs or horses,
which injure and kill far more people every year than do pythons. The
number of accidental deaths attributed to large constrictors worldwide
is miniscule, although any such death is tragic.
responsible people keep any animal they want, including dogs, snakes,
and horses, is far healthier for society than imposing restrictions
based on isolated, highly sensationalized incidents. In virtually every
case of a python-related death, having a snake in the house was not
the problem. The problem was having an irresponsible pet owner in the
house. Let's keep legislation focused on people's behavior, not on the
millions of animals, plants, and inanimate objects they could potentially
use to harm themselves or others.
let's accept what reputable scientists are telling us about the impact
of pythons on the environment: Giant, invasive snakes are eliminating
medium-size mammals in the Everglades. What will the environmental consequences
be if Burmese pythons expand their geographic range outside of southern
Florida? Observing their behavior under different environmental conditions
and understanding their ecological capabilities are key steps in preparing
to deal with this invasive species if it moves northward, as I believe
study and educating the public are essential to ensure that we respond
intelligently and effectively to a possible expansion of the geographic
range of Burmese pythons or any other invasive species, whether plant
or animal. Public support of such ecological research and its dissemination
is vital to the environmental health of the country.
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