I don’t like the idea of killing things–anything–and especially not snakes. But in the case of Burmese pythons in the Everglades, you’ll never convince me that sixty-five dead snakes is enough. We should be trying to eradicate them, for goodness sake, as destructive as they’ve been to the Everglades ecosystem.
The Burmese python population in southern Florida was likely established when a breeding facility was destroyed in Hurricane Andrew, but many snakes (which are popular pets) are probably released pets. The pythons have been living there since the 1980s and quickly become top predator as they grow. Because they get to be over twenty feet long, Burmese pythons easily establish themselves as top predator.
So why can humans make such a dramatic impact on some species and be almost helpless in the face of others? The problem seems simple. If Burmese pythons are taking over the Everglades, why can’t we just send a bunch of people into the swamp to get them all out? We have eradicated so many creatures, caused so many extinctions (passenger pigeons, Carolina parakeets, tasmanian tigers) and would like to do it to so many others (rats, cockroaches), but some continue to evade us and pester us, particularly the invasive ones.
Being part of the human species sometimes feels like being a marauding brute that does whatever it wants–polluting, developing, over-harvesting, over-populating. Manipulating the numbers of this, the environments of that, and doing everything we can to keep everything in check. But we are not always successful and our activities sometimes inadvertently causes economic and ecological crises, such as the zebra mussels and Asian carp in the Great Lakes. Unfortunately, the Burmese python in the Everglades seems to be the next most unfortunate example of animals getting the better of us.
It turns out the Burmese python, despite being a snake that grows to be over twenty feet long and despite the fact that anywhere from 10,000 to 100,000 are loose in the Everglades, is not so easy to find, even when we send a bunch of people in to kill them. Florida’s first Python Challenge, which wrapped up a few weeks ago, attracted over 1,500 hunters who had captured a total of sixty-eight snakes during the month-long competition. That doesn’t sound like very many snakes, considering how many are suspected of being in the swamp. But they had a significant home turf advantage over the hunters–even though it’s a home turf they’ve invaded and established in only the last twenty years or so.
For the snakes, though native to India, the Everglades is an ideal environment. Shallow water and thick vegetation to hide in, plenty of small mammals and bird eggs to eat. Plenty of places for a snake to hide. Like the Norway rat in New York City, the animal, though displaced from its natural habitat, is well-suited and adapts quickly to the new digs. Establishing itself quickly and in a way that makes it impossible to remove, even when hundreds of hunters sign up to help.
Perhaps, though, with a little more information, we’ll be able to do more in the future. Scientists implanted three pythons, whose lives were spared, with tracking devices–two devices for each snake, in case one fails, which means the scientists are really invested in getting this data–and then released the snakes back into the Everglades. Those snakes will be followed until breeding season. It’s hard to say for sure, but wonderful to imagine, where in the swamp those snakes could lead us.