This week federal officials said they want to ban the importation of nine large and exotic snake species. The move is designed to quell the spread of those slithering reptiles that have gotten loose and thrived in Florida and especially in the Everglades, and that threaten to spread further across the country.
More than a million of these snakes—including the giant Burmese python, boa constrictors, and several kinds of anaconda—have come to the United States in the last 30 years as pets. But invariably, over the years, some slithered loose — or were released by owners who found their reptile[s] more than they could handle. Today, many thousands nest wild in Florida’s suburban yards, parks and the Everglades [Science News]. At least one of the species, the northern African rock python, is considered dangerous to humans.
The importation ban is not all: Interior Secretary Ken Salazar also said the government would like to ban interstate sales of these snakes already inside the United States. That means someone couldn’t drive down to Texas and buy a baby python and then legally bring it home to Maryland. It would even become illegal to tote a long-owned boa across states lines — from New York to New Jersey, for instance — when someone moved [Science News]. Whether dedicated snake lovers would ditch their pets upon moving just because the government says so, however, remains to be seen.
Florida officials, for their part, have adopted the typical response to an animal reaching out-of-control numbers: hunting season. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission already allows licensed hunters to kill snakes they encounter during small-game and other hunting seasons in wildlife management areas. But the agency also intends to create a two-month season specifically for the troublesome snakes, said spokeswoman Gabriella Ferraro [Miami Herald].
The Interior Department hopes to formally propose the new rules in February. We’ll see whether it’s too little too late for the Everglades’ ecological balance. As conservation expert Stuart Pimm wrote for National Geographic, the Burmese python could be emerging as the top predator, displacing the famous alligators there.
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Discoblog: When Animals Invade, Part II: Pythons Taking Over South Florida
DISCOVER: The Truth About Invasive Species
DISCOVER: Humans vs. Animals: Our Fiercest Battles With Invasive Species (photo gallery)
Image: flickr / benjgibbs