Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Burmese pythons and Florida’s invasive species : The New Yorker

The Natural World

Swamp Things

Florida’s uninvited predators.

by April 20, 2009

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ABSTRACT: THE NATURAL WORLD about Burmese pythons and other invasive species in Florida. Writer describes the destruction caused to Florida by Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Between three and four thousand primates escaped during the hurricane, together with as many as fifteen thousand other animals including parrots, gazelles, wallabies, and mountain lions. The majority were rounded up or exterminated. What happened to the rest isn’t clear. Mentions a warehouse for exotic reptiles in Homestead that was destroyed by Andrew. Writer interviews a Florida Fish and Wildlife officer who speculates that the storm might have distributed frogs, scorpions, and Burmese pythons as far as the Everglades. Discusses the history of Florida’s ecology including the introduction of citrus trees, sugarcane, wheat and barley by the Spanish. More recently, a thriving exotic-wildlife trade sent a ragged parade of escapees into the wild: parakeets, peafowl, swamp eels, and squirrel monkeys. Florida now has more exotic lizard species than there are natives in the entire Southeast. Writer interviews Skip Snow, a wildlife biologist at Everglades National Park, and its chief hunter of Burmese pythons. Snow isn’t sure how the Pythons got to the Everglades. He, for one, doesn’t buy the “frisbee” theory that Hurricane Andrew carried them there. Burmese pythons began to appear in the park in 1995. One January morning in 2003, a group of tourists came across a full-grown alligator and an adult python fighting. Within months, Snow was finding pythons of all sizes. He and his colleagues have found more than nine hundred so far. The Everglades, at capacity, could hold as many as a hundred and forty thousand. Describes the pythons’ hunting and eating habits and Snow’s tracking of them with radio transmitters. Discusses the laws that regulate the import of exotic species and the enforcement of those laws by inspectors at U.S. ports. Writer interviews Eddie McKissick, the lead agent for the United States Fish and Wildlife Service at the port of Miami. McKissick believes there’s no good way to keep troublemakers like the python out of the country. The best you can do is try to exterminate them when they escape. The python’s potential range is roughly a third of the contiguous United States. Mentions the Nonnative Wildlife Invasion Prevention Act, which was proposed to Congress last spring and the likelihood that it won’t pass because of opposition from the pet industry. Writer visits Cape Coral, Florida where an African lizard called the Nile monitor has recently become a nuisance.