In the Everglades, an area synonymous with Florida wildlife, Burmese pythons now slither through the river of grass. The invasive snakes can grow to more than 20 feet long and weigh more than 200 pounds. One 16-footer was found with a full-grown deer in its belly. Others have devoured alligators. Sightings in the Everglades of raccoons, opossums, bobcats and other mammals have plummeted.
Just west of Miami, state biologists are taking a survey based on the suspicion that rock pythons are now established there. The rock python, the largest snake in Africa, will eat almost anything.
Meanwhile, in a federal court in Washington, D.C., the United States Association of Reptile Keepers is suing to overturn a ban on the importation and transportation of four constrictor snakes — including the Burmese python.
In January 2012, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service — taking into account public comments and business and environmental analyses — banned the Burmese python, yellow anaconda, and the northern and southern African pythons as injurious wildlife. The rule was announced at a news conference in the Everglades.
Those who already owned snakes could keep them — unless possession was illegal under state law, as it is in Florida for the Burmese python. But they could not bring them across state lines.
However, the United States Association of Reptile Keepers says the ban is crippling the constricting-snake industry, which brought in $100 million in revenue each year — about a tenth of the $1.0 billion to $1.4 billion generated by the reptile industry as a whole.
“Many thousands of small businesses are financially reliant on this trade,” USARK said.
A key allegation is that the Fish and Wildlife Service used improper climate data to calculate where the invasive snakes could survive in the wild. In trying to guess where these snakes can or can’t survive, let’s err on the side of caution. As South Florida can attest, once an invasive species is established, there is no eliminating it.
Besides, Florida continues to attract people from all over the country with the same gentle climate that allows the snakes to thrive. So if the snakes are freely traded elsewhere, you know where some will wind up.
The spread of creatures that pose such a threat should be stopped. Let’s hope the court sees it that way, too.