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Game on: Crist orders python purge

by Dara Kam | July 15th, 2009

A python posse armed with clubs and machetes will start combing the Everglades for the supersized serpents this weekend.

Gov. Charlie Crist ordered the python bounty hunt Wednesday at the urging of two Florida congressmen who were in an uproar after one of the exotic snakes strangled a 2-year-old girl July 1 near Ocala.

That python was a pet and didn’t live in the Everglades. But the case called new attention to the plague of the oversized reptiles that have spread throughout South Florida’s marshes, gobbling wading birds and posing a danger to native wildlife.

Estimates of the python population in the Everglades range between 10,000 and 150,000. They can reach up to 20 feet in length and have long, curved teeth, along with the ability to squeeze their prey to death.

At Crist’s command, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has signed up three snake experts to begin the python purge in selected locations south of Lake Okeechobee. They include state-managed portions of the Everglades, along with the Holey Land and Rotenberger wildlife management areas in far western Palm Beach County.

Hunting is not permitted in Everglades National Park, where tens of thousands of pythons have invaded, but Crist has allowed the snake safari on adjacent state Everglades marshes.

Two caveats, however: The state is not yet asking for more volunteers. And the snake searchers cannot use firearms, explosives or traps to kill their quarry. They’ll have to use “hand-held instruments,” said wildlife commission spokeswoman Pat Behnke.

“You can maybe guess that some of them might be a club or a machete,” Behnke said.

Crist issued the order to commission Chairman Rodney Barreto after U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson stepped up demands that something be done about the pestilent pythons. Nelson filed a bill in February that would ban the import and interstate sale of any pythons, including the Burmese, which can reach up to 15 feet in length.

Nelson, a Democrat, asked U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on Tuesday to organize the snake hunt. U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Tequesta, joined the crusade later in the day.

On Wednesday, Crist stepped in and ordered the posse to begin work on Friday.

The state’s three handpicked herpetologists have their work cut out for them, Behnke said. Snakes are inactive during the hot summer months and the safari likely will be conducted at night, she said. The posse will be allowed to take along up to five assistants each.

State wildlife experts have a Pied Piper-like plan in which they hope to drive the pythons north of the Everglades, where they would pose less of an ecological hazard. They’ll sign up three or four more snake experts to join the team and gather data on the snakes before killing them during the next three months.

After that, they will likely open the bountyhunting to other professionals, Behnke said.

Snake expert Greg Longhurst of Loxahatchee said pythons longer than 10 feet should be handled by at least two people. And he warned that even though the pythons aren’t venomous, “a bite is not going to be pain-free.”

Even animal rights activists aren’t feeling creepy about the searchand-destroy mission.

“We understand that the pythons are a serious problem in the Florida Everglades,” said Animal Rights Foundation of Florida spokesman Nick Atwood.

Professionals should know how to club the snakes to death humanely, Atwood said.

“But the last thing we want to see is a bounty or some sort of open season on these animals where members of the public will be going into open areas and killing everything that they find,” he said.

Staff writer Willie Howard contributed to this story.

This story was printed on page 1A of the July 16 edition of the Palm Beach Post.

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9 Responses to “Game on: Crist orders python purge”

  1. Marilee Says:

    I am an evironmentalist and animal lover. This new order leaves me a bit conflicted. I hate to see a bounty placed on any animal, as it has been misused in the past against native animals deemed “pests”, such as mountain lions and wolves, now endangered.

    However, it can’t be denied that the exotic, non native pythons are truly causing havoc in the Everglades, killing untold numbers of endangered native wildlife, not to forget, children too. They are a huge danger to the health of the Everglades, and to people. They simply do not belong in Florida.

    So, reluctantly, I have to agree that it appears the only way to control their numbers is to place some kind of bounty on the snakes, hoping that native snakes won’t be accidentally included in the roundup and killed too.

  2. c.bradley Says:

    Killing, violence is never an answer to any problem. As usual the problem is caused by irresponsible people.
    However more importantly the laws for selling, keeping or not keeping preferably, exotic creatures need to be addressed in greater detail and enforced.
    I am not too fond of snakes – most probably more out of fear than anything, but I do wish that these magnificent creatures could find sanctuary somewhere be it a zoo or a private sanctuary.

  3. damjoq Says:

    Who cares. They are eating the natural wildlife. They should be extinguished by any means necessary at this point. We are being overtaken by all of the exotic pets that people just couldn’t live without and then dumped. All of the different lizards, snakes, etc. I have no baby birds this year thanks to the lizards in my area.

  4. PahokeeBill Says:

    I will kill any I see, I don’t need a permitt to protect myself from a big snake.

  5. bigdaddy Says:

    outlaw them all and send them to mexico.oh while were at it send the illegals with’em.The rest of the snake’s kill’em.

  6. Henry Smith Says:

    How quickly the sheeple take the media’s bait!

    FACTS: No child or otherwise has been hurt by a wild python in the Everglades, or even all of Florida. An “escaped” pet killed the child in central FL, not a wild one. And on that front, it looks to me like the parents may have caused the poor child’s death and tried to explain it with the python cover-up (better than admitting to murder, right?), which wouldn’t have been so difficult to create. After all, what python keeper would run looking for a knife to kill the snake when discovered on his child, when he could easily unwrap that relatively puny snake immediately by grabbing the head or tail? He could also tease the snake into striking the child’s head / face to make it look like it had bitten in preparation to eating. Anyone with a lick of experience with captive pythons knows that, but the public and politicians are clueless.

    2nd FACT: To those calling for a ban on these environmental hazards, be sure to add cats and dogs to the list, and be ready to destroy their pets when the law is enacted. Feral cats are thousands of times more ecologically destructive than pythons.

    3rd FACT: It’s too late for this silly ‘purge’ plan to have any effect at all except to let a few politicians show the naive public they’re “doing something”, and let a handful of good ol’ boys have some fun hunting them, which will largely be fruitless anyway when compared to the numbers purportedly out there. At least our taxes aren’t paying for their efforts! It’ll make some great “trophy” photos in the tabloids, especially when a few indigos, king snakes and diamondbacks get strung up alongside the pythons.

  7. Walter J. Tucker Says:

    My thought it should not gone this
    far,when they were found this issue
    should have been taken care of,and
    not gone this far !!!

    W.J.T

  8. Post On Politics » Blog Archive » Post on Politics - Says:

    [...] Florida set off demands for an open-season on the snakes, which have overrun the national park. Gov. Charlie Crist gladly complied and ordered the bounty hunt for the pests last week. (U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, has had the [...]

  9. megan Says:

    I would like to now how many people do you need to tran for the Everglades and the snakes problems. I would like to help and sign up.Lean about how i can become a snake bonita.

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