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Threatened by giant snakes, U.S. will ban import of 4 species

January 17, 2012 |  9:44 am

Python
Federal officials on Tuesday announced a ban on the import and interstate transport of Burmese pythons and three other nonnative species of snakes, calling them a threat to the environment, especially in Florida.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar made the announcement in that state, where an estimated 150,000 pythons are believed to inhabit the Everglades. Last year, a 16-foot python killed in the Everglades was found to have a 76-pound deer in its stomach. In 2005, a 13-foot python was found dead in the Everglades after it burst itself trying to digest a 6-foot alligator.

The announcement was welcomed by Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), who has pushed for a congressional ban on a number of nonnative species of snakes. In 2009, he placed the skin of a 17-foot python on the table at a Capitol Hill hearing held shortly after an 8 1/2-foot-long pet Burmese python broke out of a terrarium and strangled a 2-year-old Florida girl in her bedroom.

Nelson’s office said Tuesday that when pythons started showing up in the Everglades in large numbers a few years ago, "most folks laughed off the threat from the huge, nonnative snakes as just another Florida nuisance -- little worse than some swamp acreage salesman." But, his office noted, attitudes have changed, especially after incidents such as one in which a python showed up in a Florida family’s swimming pool.

"The Burmese python has already gained a foothold in the Florida Everglades, and we must do all we can to battle its spread and to prevent further human contributions of invasive snakes that cause economic and environmental damage," Salazar said in a statement.

Although other Obama administration regulations have drawn fire from congressional Republicans, this ban has received bipartisan congressional support.

Still, Rep. Tom Rooney (R-Fla.) criticized the administration’s action as a "half measure," saying in a statement that it falls short of banning the import and interstate transport of nine species of "invasive predators that pose a severe threat to our native wildlife."

Sixty days after publication of the final rule, import and interstate transport of the Burmese python, northern and southern African pythons and yellow anaconda into the U.S. will be prohibited. Those who own any of these four species of snakes will be allowed to keep them if allowed by state law, according to federal officials. However, they cannot take, send or sell them across state lines.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is exploring the possibility of adding other species to the ban.

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Photo: Interior Secretary Ken Salazar watches park rangers as they prepare to put a 13-foot python in a bag in the Everglades on Tuesday. Salazar announced the ban on importation and interstate transportation of four giant snake species that threaten the Everglades. Credit: Alan Diaz / Associated Press

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