In the nineteen eighties, the exotic pet trade was booming. One of the top-selling animals in the pet trade at the time was the Burmese python. People bought these animals to keep in their houses in small glass displays. Soon, these three-to-four-foot snakes were becoming nine to ten plus feet long. Unable to feed them, some pet owners in southern Florida released the animals into the Everglades, which was the perfect habitat for the snakes to thrive. With a population beginning to take hold in the Everglades by the late eighties and early nineties, Hurricane Andrew made landfall in the Miami area in nineteen ninety-two, damaging a python breeding facility and releasing more snakes into the swamp.
It’s hard to pinpoint the exact population of pythons in the Everglades today. Scientists know that there is an established breeding population there that could number into the tens of thousands. The pythons are destroying the fragile ecosystem of the everglades. Being an opportunistic predator, they lay in wait for their prey. When it’s within distance it strikes, constricts around its victim, squeezes the life out of it, and swallows it whole. This single predator has decimated the Everglades population of raccoons, opossum, rabbits, bobcats, and many of the swamps wading waterfowl. Including the wood stork, a highly endangered species.
In response to this invasive predator, the state of Florida has made it illegal to own pythons. They have very few restrictions on hunting them in the wild. They have also developed an incentive program where they pay hunters to remove the nuisance creatures. The state is also exploring hunting tactics such as canine detection and genetic warfare. Scientists are experimenting with editing genes to make all offspring male or cause all females to die shortly after birth.
The United States spends over one hundred billion dollars a year fighting invasive species. Many of these invasive species are just a by-product of globalization, consumerism, or man’s need to control nature. Some invasive species cause so much imbalance in the ecosystem that removing them would make the problem worse. The Everglades is a world heritage site. It’s an international biosphere. If we let these snakes constrict the life out of the Everglades, we have failed not only that ecosystem but the entire ecosystem of our planet.