Florida’s wildlife and beautiful landscapes are like nowhere else in the world.  In south Florida though, particularly The Everglades, wildlife is being decimated by a non-native and unwelcomed creature, the Burmese Python.

Burmese pythons have established a breeding population in South Florida and experts say they are the most dangerous invasive species in The Everglades.

A Burmese python is one of the largest snakes in the world and can grow up to 23ft long and weigh 200lbs. They hunt and eat just about anything.  Their diet is primarily small animals like rabbits and foxes, however, as they grow, they can take down deer and even alligators.

They have devastated the mammal population in The Everglades.  Populations of raccoons have dropped 99.3 percent, opossums 98.9 percent, and bobcats 87.5 percent since 1997.  Cottontail rabbits, and foxes effectively disappeared. The marsh rabbit population has been completely wiped out in the area.

Burmese pythons originate in Southeast Asia. So how did they get to Florida over 8,000 miles away?

Two theories exist.

Theory 1: Burmese Pythons were dumped by owners during the 1980s. These snakes had been shipped into the U.S. so that people could keep them as exotic pets. Eventually, the snakes got too large, too expensive, or otherwise became a hindrance for the owner. They allowed the snakes to go free in The Everglades, and the rest is history. This theory is considered to be true. Yet, the problem was exacerbated by other factors.

Theory 2: Burmese Pythons escaped during Hurricane Andrew in 1992 when facilities, used to research the snakes were destroyed.  When people evacuated in the face of the 150 mph winds brought by the hurricane, these snakes were left behind. As roofs blew off and glass shattered, the snakes fled into the wild.  I imagine that theory one and two combined are probably what happened.

The Burmese python, although not native to Florida, thrives in the warm climate with basically no predators except humans and alligators.

They breed quickly, laying up to 100 eggs per year.

These snakes have negatively transformed the ecology of the area, and they continue to spread farther north in Florida. That puts them in close contact with greater numbers of animals, pets, and people.

Conservationists are making progress on restoring the important ecosystem in The Everglades partially through programs like The Florida Python Challenge which ran this year from Aug. 5 through Aug. 14.  The goal was to remove snakes and raise awareness of the environmental harm they cause.  It mobilized professionals and novices to South Florida to hunt the state’s most harmful invasive species.

Professional contractors  have removed more than 10,000 pythons since the state began employing them in 2017. Unfortunately, that’s a drop in the bucket.  Currently, it’s estimated that anywhere between 30,000 and 300,000 Burmese pythons inhabit Florida, but it’s difficult to measure their numbers.

This isn’t a trophy hunt or a sport hunt.  It’s a hunt to save our environment.

The odds of eradicating an introduced population of reptiles once it has spread are low, thus, the importance of prevention.  Yet another reason why people should think long and hard before taking on ownership of any exotic pet.

For those who are dog parents, consider joining FHS August 27th from 5 till 7 for our Yappy Hour at The Good Times Dog Bar 3468 N. Oceanshore Blvd.  For more info go to flaglerhumanesociety.org/events/.

Amy Wade-Carotenuto is the Executive Director at Flagler Humane Society and can be reached at acarotenuto@flaglerhumanesociety.org. Flagler Humane Society is a 501(c)(3) not-for- profit organization founded in 1980. For more information go to www.flaglerhumanesociety.org