Abandoned pythons plague Everglades park
By Hans Dahne May 17, 2006, 14:16 GMT
Everglades City, Florida - Rick Scholle acquired his first anaconda quite by chance.
A young man who got a flat tire in front of Scholle's alligator- and-snake farm snake farm near Everglades City had a problem other than his car troubles on his mind. His girlfriend had told him to 'lose' their pet anaconda, a boa constrictor native to South America, said the 60-year-old owner of the farm in the south-eastern US state of Florida.
That's how Scholle got the anaconda, one of the largest, scariest and most aggressive snakes in the world. It joins other exotic animals creeping and crawling around Scholle's little zoo. A cheery green iguana, and Pepper, a 4-metre-long, 35 kilogramme Burmese python are among them.
But many animals are, as the young man's girlfriend suggested, simply 'lost' in the Everglades intentionally by their owners, and pythons have become a downright plague. Owners of the snakes are fascinated by their their beautiful brown spots, but grow weary when they realize that they ultimately become too much to care for. The favoured drop-off point is somewhere in the 6,000 square kilometres of the dense vegetation and marshes of the Everglades National Park on the southern tip of Florida.
'The pythons are a big problem, they're exotic, and of course they mess up the way the park is supposed to operate,' said park ranger Carol McCreary, 67. 'We have people coming in that bought baby pythons and they grow huge and they don't know how to control them anymore. And thy can't get rid of them so they come down here and dump them so they don't have to kill them, I guess.'
Skip Snow, a biologist who works in the park, said the Burmese python is a very popular pet - until it grows rapidly, reaching up to 3 metres long by the time it is 2 years old.
Snow, 54, takes care mainly of animals in the park endangered by hurricanes and other environmental influences such as alien species. Among other things, he has found a limpkin, a type of crane, in the belly of a python - a bird that can grow to 70 centimetres.
Park rangers have noticed that pythons are competing to prey upon native species, such as the lynx, of the cat family. Snakes and wildcats both hunt the same type of endangered muskrat.
A photograph of a 3.9-metre python circulated worldwide last October showed the punishing results of a miscalculated hunt after the animal underestimated the size of a 1.8-metre-long alligator it ate. It's body burst open, and both animals died.
Snow was on hand for the gruesome find and considers it entirely possible that the large snakes regularly have small alligators on their menu, swallowing them head first and not realizing the size of the victim's body. Generally, however, Snow says the alligators have the advantage.
Snow has set up a python hotline because the constrictor snakes native to Africa, Southeast Asia, Australia and the Pacific islands are breeding in the park. Most of the egg-laying reptiles in the Everglades up to now have been spotted in West Lake, an idyllic lake edged thickly by mangroves.
When he receives a call, Snow sets traps or tracks the snake with specially trained dogs. Since 2003, the biologist says he has taken 212 pythons 'out of the population,' which is a nice way of saying the snakes were killed or found dead. Snow opens up all the snakes to determine what they last ate.
McCreary said the pythons have become rivals with the alligators, a top predator in the park. She said the rangers try to destroy them when they find them, but she doesn't know if they'll ever be rid of all of them.
Scholle, by contrast, sticks up for the pythons, saying there is so much food that he doesn't see the pythons adding any danger to the park's ecosystem. He also said if a python attacked a human it would bite but quickly release its hold. It would not try to constrict.
'Whenever a nonindigenous species is discussed it is always put in the most terrible light,' Scholle said, complaining that good attributes are glossed over to focus on 'the negative.'© 2006 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur