Florida Snake-Hunting Competition Targets Growing Problem for Birds and Other Wildlife
Contact: Robert Johns, 202-234-7181 ext.210,
|Burmese Python, Wikepedia
(Washington, D.C., December 11, 2012) There’s a new twist in the long-running battle to control the Burmese pythons spread through the Florida Everglades: a state-sponsored python hunting contest, open to the public, with cash prizes for the winners.
Florida officials say the so-called “Python Challenge” will pay $1,500 each to the amateur and state-licensed snake hunter who catches the most pythons between January 12 and February 10, 2013. The beginner and licensed hunter who pulls in the biggest Burmese python will be paid $1,000.
By all accounts, there’s no chance that the month-long hunt will rid the state of Florida of all its unwanted pythons which are thought to number in tens of thousands. But sponsors and supporters of the hunt say it will help draw attention to the damage these big snakes are doing to the state’s native ecosystems.
“There’s a need to raise the sense of urgency here,” said Darin Schroeder, Director of Conservation Advocacy for American Bird Conservancy, one of the nation’s leading bird conservation groups. “These snakes multiply quickly, are highly adaptable to new environments and they consume a large quantity and wide variety of prey, including mammals, amphibians, lizards, and threatened and endangered bird species.”
Schroeder notes that the new competition follows a Congressional hearing held on November 29 on H.R. 511, a bill to ban imports of reticulated pythons, green anacondas, boa constrictors, and two other constrictor snakes that pose a major threat to native wildlife. That bill would add those snakes to the list of “injurious wildlife” regulated by the Lacey Act, one of America’s oldest conservation statutes designed to protect wildlife from illegal trade. The change, which was supported by ABC in a letter to the House Natural Resources Committee, would make importing or transporting these snakes over state lines a federal offence.
“This problem is big enough and complex enough that we really are going to have to go at it from multiple directions before it is simply too late to act. Both the snake-catching competition and H.R. 511 could be quite helpful in that sense.”
Schroeder says fast-breeding and long-lived constrictor snakes have done tremendous ecological damage in the state of Florida, where people who originally bought the snakes as pets have released them into the wild. In a recent study, scientists collected more than 300 Burmese pythons in Everglades National Park and found that birds, from the five-inch-long House Wren to the four-foot-long Great Blue Heron, accounted for 25 percent of the python’s diet in the Everglades.
Burmese pythons can grow up to 20 feet in length. The biggest python ever captured in the Everglades – last August – was 17 feet, 7 inches long and pregnant with 87 eggs. Last year, a different python made national headlines when it killed and ate a white-tailed deer.
The contest was developed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission with help from University of Florida, the Nature Conservancy, the Wildlife Foundation of Florida and the ZooMiami. Entrants who have never hunted pythons before will take an online training course. The hunting area will consist of four state-owned wildlife management areas found in the Everglades.
Florida is not the only part of the United States where introduced snakes are doing ecological damage. On the island of Guam, brown tree snakes were accidentally introduced from their native range of New Guinea and Australia after World War II. Preying on eggs and birds alike, the brown tree snake has caused the extinction of nine of the eleven native land bird species on Guam. Problems caused by those invasive snakes are not limited to the near-total devastation of the island’s bird life: they also include major disruptions of electric power transmission, telephone service, military operations, computers, and tourism.
Schroeder adds that wildlife in the Hawaiian Islands could face similar devastation if constrictors or other snakes were to become established there. According to a 2001 study titled, Risk to Hawaii from Snakes by Fred Kraus and Domingo Carvalho, and published in the peer-reviewed journal Pacific Science, there was a yearly average of 24 snake sightings, mostly free-roaming animals that were not recovered, reported state-wide between 1990 and 2000.
Complete information on the Python Challenge™, is available at PythonChallenge.org. Florida currently prohibits possession or sale of Burmese pythons for use as pets, and federal law bans the importation and interstate sale of this species.
American Bird Conservancy (ABC) is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit membership organization whose mission is to conserve native birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. ABC acts by safeguarding the rarest species, conserving and restoring habitats, and reducing threats, while building capacity in the bird conservation movement.