By Michael Markarian
It’s been big news that non-native boa constrictors, Burmese pythons and African rock pythons are living and breeding in the wild and subsequently wreaking havoc on the ecosystem, frightening citizens and killing pets in residential neighborhoods. The question isn’t if these dangerous predators are going to colonize other areas, but when and where they are going to become established. Scientists confirmed last year that non-native boa constrictors are now breeding in Puerto Rico and spreading across the island.
Boa constrictors have established more invasive populations than any other species of constrictor snake. In addition to parts of Florida and Puerto Rico, boas are also established in Cozumel and Aruba where they consume an estimated 17,000 birds annually. Earlier this year, two boa constrictors were found loose on public property in Hawaii, another state where the snakes can survive.
These Boa constrictor invasions may have been triggered when owners who could no longer care for their pet snakes dumped them into the wild. Too often people purchase pet snakes when the animals are young and manageable, but there are very few options for placement once they grow too dangerous to handle. In South Florida, the non-native snake invasion caused by irresponsible pet owners may have been exacerbated when a hurricane destroyed a reptile dealer’s facility, setting captive snakes loose where they now prey on native wildlife, including endangered species.
“Once non-native snakes become established across a large area, especially in densely forested areas, they become much more difficult to find and almost impossible to eradicate,” U.S. Geological Survey scientist Bob Reed told CBS News for its story about the Puerto Rican boa constrictor invasion. In fact, not a single invasive reptile species has ever been eradicated through management efforts and taxpayers will continue to spend millions of dollars to try and control the snakes already thriving in Florida’s environment.
With clutch sizes of up to 124 eggs, these snakes reproduce rapidly. The release or escape of a single pregnant python in a hospitable habitat could result in colonization in a new area. The more humane and fiscally responsible approach is to prevent the problem in the first place. In 2010, Florida passed a law making it illegal to breed, sell or keep most large constrictor snakes as pets.
It’s overdue for the Obama administration to follow suit on a national scale. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had a proposal under consideration to ban the trade of nine exotic snake species that the U.S. Geological Survey identified as posing a significant risk to the environment. More....