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State hopes to radically reduce unwanted python population.

Following the tragic death of two year old girl by a pet albino Burmese python in early July, 2009, the state of Florida has instituted a program to reduce the population of the imported reptiles. The snake has no natural predator and its number has grown to the tens of thousands due to owners releasing unwanted pets and the accidental release from pet stores during the devastation of Hurricane Andrew.

image via wikipedia

Permits are being issued to those who possess a Reptile of Concern license and have been screened by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission. The program will run through October 31, 2009 at which time it will be evaluated to determine if changes are required. It is not a bounty program. The state will make no payments but trappers will be allowed to sell the skin and meat and retain the proceeds. Firearms and traps may not be utilized–only nets and snares. Snakes must be killed with a blunt or sharp hand-held instrument.

While the roundup will be centered in the Everglades there have been several recent sightings in central Florida, as well. Recently a 14-foot Burmese python was captured after a two week search in Lake County. The snake is believed to have been responsible for the disappearance of numerous neighborhood cats and dogs. Neither state wildlife officials nor county animal control officers will respond to snake calls citing the difficulty factor and the costs involved. Some suggest the cost in man hours alone can reach upwards of $4,000.00 to track down and capture one python.

Florida FWC press photo indicating difficulty factor in spotting Burmese python in the wild

More than 112,000 pythons have been imported into the U.S. in the past 20 years. Only 311 were removed from the Everglades in 2008. They are presently dining on the Key Largo woodrat, a federally endangered species. The U.S. Geological Survey indicates the reptile could adapt to Florida conditions from the ‘glades to the panhandle.

image via wikipedia

The Burmese python can grow up to 26 feet in length and weigh up to 200 pounds. The largest captured so far in the Everglades is 16 feet, weighing 150 pounds. While it prefers to live near water, trappers need to be aware that the reptile is an excellent climber and could be lurking above in the next mangrove tree.

Females lay between 50 and 100 eggs, keeping them warm by twicthing muscles which generates heat. Incubation can last as long as three months. The young hatch and are on their own.

To keep a python as a pet in Florida a license is required which costs $100. Specific caging requirements must be met. Those with a diameter of two or more inches must be implanted with a microchip identifying it and the owner. It is against the law to allow one to escape or to release one into the wild.