Fatal python attack shows threat from invasive speciesby Palm Beach Post Staff | July 8th, 2009
A pet Burmese python broke out of a glass cage last week and strangled to death a 2-year-old girl in her Florida bedroom.
The tragedy was the latest and most graphic example of a problem that has plagued the state for more than a decade: a nonnative species that is wreaking havoc in the Everglades, threatening the environment, native wildlife and people.
“It’s just a matter of time before one of these snakes gets to a visitor in the Florida Everglades,” said Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla.
Nelson has introduced a bill to ban imports of the snakes, after years of trying to persuade federal wildlife officials to restrict their entry into the country.
Nelson was one of several senators who warned about the threat of invasive species at a hearing Wednesday.
From a mysterious fungus attacking bats in the Northeast to zebra mussels in the Great Lakes and snakehead fish in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, native wildlife is facing new threats nationwide.
Lawmakers are considering a variety of measures to address the problem, including a bill that would require cargo ships to discharge ballast water to ensure that invasive species do not attach themselves to their hulls. Most invasive species enter the country through oceangoing vessels.
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said he supports a strong national standard for ballast water treatment that would remain in place for several years, giving ship owners time to develop new technology. Levin also supports a ban on imports of Asian carp, but said the aquatic species plaguing Michigan are no match — in size anyway — for the Burmese python, which can grow to 18 feet and has been known to eat alligators and even deer.
“I’m glad this damn python is a long way from where I live,” Levin said, eyeing large photos that showed the python in all its menace. The photos were displayed at a hearing conducted by two Senate Environment and Public Works subcommittees.
Burmese pythons are native to southeast Asia, but they survive easily in Florida’s warm, moist climate.
Some owners have freed the fast-growing pythons into the wild and a population of them has taken hold in the Everglades. Scientists also speculate that a bevy of Burmese pythons escaped in 1992 from pet shops battered by Hurricane Andrew and have been reproducing ever since.
Lawmakers also discussed the fungus killing Northeastern bats. Since it was discovered in a cave in upstate New York in 2007, the so-called white-nose syndrome has spread to 65 caves in nine states, and killed at least 500,000 bats. The disease now spreads from Virginia to Vermont and could expand across the county, officials said.