Tackling The Burmese Python Invasion

Florida’s expansive natural wetlands have long had a running battle with invasive species, and one of the most successful of all has been the Burmese python. USA Today reported that the final bastion of territory not invaded by the species, the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, now has had confirmed sightings of the snake following years of suspicions after its DNA was found in water samples. The destructive Burmese python poses a unique challenge to the Floridian natural landscape, and one that cannot be easily solved. However, with the help of natural science, headway is being made into minimizing the threat.

Why pythons are risky

Florida is an incredibly biodiverse place, hosting species endemic only to that part of the world. Unfortunately, many of these are also endangered. According to the USGS, Florida hosts 50 endangered species that require the delicate balance of the state to keep them alive and well. Burmese pythons are a destructive species that are very difficult to catch. Burmese pythons can remain hidden in water for over an hour, emerging only to take prey. Many of the animals they predate are shared with other, native species; animals like wading birds, rabbits, foxes, bobcats and opossums. Unfortunately, not many animal species will hunt Burmese pythons themselves. As a result, their numbers have exploded while competitor species are unable to cope.

What’s in place

There are some animals that predate the Burmese python. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission notes that only two species are common predators of the python; humans and alligators. That’s a slim field for naturally removing the animals from this habitat, and one that’s making it difficult to produce long-term conservation efforts. However, efforts to remove Burmese python from the Everglades has resulted in two main areas of action. The first concerns the introduction of a new, and less destructive, predator.

Natural hunting

One key way of removing Burmese python from the wild has been the use of sentinel snakes. As the Smithsonian Magazine outlines, sentinel snakes lead their handlers to Burmese Python in the wild. They are Burmese themselves, and have a radio transmitter implanted. A decoy, then, leads human trackers to python nests and egg-laying females, where they can be taken out of the wild or destroyed. Together with general public vigilance – that is, members of the public actively reporting when and where they’ve seen the snakes out in the wild – there are good efforts being made in the removal of these invasive snakes from the wetlands and the ultimate remediation of the natural environment. It’s intensive work, however, and unlikely to ever lead to the full removal of the species. However, a significant drop in their population should allow for some breathing room.

That, in turn, will help the native species of Florida to flourish. Burmese pythons aren’t necessarily unwelcome, but in an environment where they can’t be beat, they need to be addressed. Continuing conservation efforts may achieve that.

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