WILDLIFE

Wildlife officers determined to catch nasty python invading South Florida

 
 
Liz Barraco, exotic pet amnesty program coordinator for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservaton Commission, probes the bushes beside the C-4 levee north of Tamiami Trail looking for exotic Northern African pythons. Another researcher can be seen hunting in the background.
Liz Barraco, exotic pet amnesty program coordinator for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservaton Commission, probes the bushes beside the C-4 levee north of Tamiami Trail looking for exotic Northern African pythons. Another researcher can be seen hunting in the background.
Sue Cocking / Miami Herald Staff

scocking@MiamiHerald.com

State and federal wildlife biologists have pretty much given up hope of eradicating some exotic species invading Florida such as the lionfish, tegu lizard, and Burmese python.

But they feel like they still have a chance to knock out another: the Northern African python.

Growing larger than the notorious Burmese and with a nastier disposition, the snake also known as the African rock python was first spotted in South Florida in 2002 — probably an abandoned pet. About 30 have been found over the past five years, mainly around the C-4 levee north of Tamiami Trail, according to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission wildlife biologist Jennifer Eckles.

While Eckles said there’s no estimate of the population, the snakes may be confined to about a 10-square-mile area north and south of the Trail east of Krome Avenue.

“It doesn’t seem like they are spreading outside this range,” Eckles said.

“The fact that they haven’t been found in Everglades National Park makes us think they are confined to this area,” she said. “We haven’t found any hatchlings in a long time. We haven’t found any hatched eggs. The females we’ve found had unfertilized eggs, so we’re hoping we’ve already impacted their population enough that they’re having a hard time trying to reproduce.”

Eckles and colleagues from the U.S. Geological Survey, University of Florida, Miami-Dade County, South Florida Water Management District and Everglades National Park conduct regular searches, including one Friday covering about a half-mile of the C-4 levee.

Armed with snake hooks, they patrolled the levee road and its banks, looking under rocks and piles of melaleuca timber.

“You look for that iridescent shine,” said Liz Barraco, the Fish and Wildlife’s exotic pet amnesty program coordinator.

But searchers came up empty-handed.

“These weren’t necessarily ideal weather conditions,” Barraco said. “After a cool night and a warm morning, you are likely to catch them basking.”

If the hunt had been successful, Eckles said, snakes would have been euthanized and studied. So far, their stomach contents have included Muscovy ducks, raccoons and opossums.

While Northern African pythons can grow to 20 feet, the largest found in Florida so far measured 14 feet. A Florida law adopted in 2010 prohibits keeping them as pets.

Eckles said anyone who comes upon a suspected python –– African or Burmese — should keep a safe distance, take a picture and report it to the state’s hotline at 111-IVEGOT1.

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