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Florida python hunt ends with 37 of the invasive reptiles being killed

November 4, 2009 |  8:59 am

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission investigators remove an unlicensed Burmese python from a west central Florida home in September.

It has to be an unsettling situation for parents of small children and owners of small pets in South Florida, where thousands of Burmese pythons are slithering amok.

A state-sanctioned pilot hunting program aimed at determining location and formulating an eradication plan ended Saturday with 37 of the invasive reptiles being killed. 

"This was more about finding where they are and seeing if we can contain their expansion,'' Scott Hardin, exotic species coordinator for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, told the Miami Herald.

The constrictors can measure 18 feet long and weigh 160 pounds, and wildlife officials say they could number in the tens of thousands in the South Florida region -- mostly in the Everglades.

Snake owners who released pythons when they became too large to manage are believed largely responsible for this troubling phenomenon. The snakes, which are reproducing in the wild, have become a threat to native wildlife.

The wildlife commission is collecting data from the snakes killed so far and will expand the hunting program next year. Meanwhile, licensed hunters after other species can continue to kill pythons in designated areas, including parts of the Everglades around Big Cypress National Preserve.

"If you're in there hunting, and you see a python, you can kill it,"' Hardin said.

Hunters have used nets and snares and guns to subdue the reptiles, but all legal hunting methods are allowed, including bang sticks, harpoons and spear guns.

In a letter encouraging the harvesting of pythons, posted on the commission website, Chairman Rodney Barreto wrote, "You can even have some fancy cowboy boots made from python, but I don't recommend eating the meat because testing revealed high levels of mercury in the meat -- levels well above that considered safe to eat."

The Miami Herald notes that a bill is in the works aimed at banning the trade and import of pythons and other invasive snakes into the United States.

-- Pete Thomas

Photo: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission investigators remove an unlicensed Burmese python from a west central Florida home in September. Credit: George Skene / Orlando Sentinel

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