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Pythons eat animals native to Florida and threaten the state’s fragile ecosystem. (Sun-Sentinel / MCT / Landov)

Stopping an Invasion

Hunters are working to protect Florida’s wetlands from an invasion of Burmese pythons

By Zach Jones | January 3 , 2013
<p> TOP: Officials estimate tens of thousands of Burmese pythons have invaded the wetlands of Florida. (Jim Tuten / Animals Animals - Earth Scenes) </p><p> BOTTOM: The pythons originally came to Florida as pets or zoo animals. (Robert Gallagher / Aurora Photos / Alamy)</p>

TOP: Officials estimate tens of thousands of Burmese pythons have invaded the wetlands of Florida. (Jim Tuten / Animals Animals - Earth Scenes)

BOTTOM: The pythons originally came to Florida as pets or zoo animals. (Robert Gallagher / Aurora Photos / Alamy)

Burmese pythons are some of the biggest snakes in the world. They are also one of the biggest problems in Florida’s wetlands. So state officials have asked hunters to help.

The pythons are originally from Asia. Brought to the U.S. as pets or zoo animals, some were released or broke free into the wild and have found Florida’s warm weather to be perfect for a new home. Experts estimate that tens of thousands now live in the Everglades and the state’s other marshy wetlands.

What’s so dangerous about a few pets on the loose? These supersize snakes are an invasive species. An invasive species is an animal or a plant that moves into an area and harms native wildlife.

“The problem is with animals,” says Carli Segelson, spokesperson for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. “The pythons eat native birds, reptiles, and small mammals, many of which are threatened species.”

Since the pythons moved in, several native species—such as bobcats and rabbits—have largely disappeared from Florida’s wetlands.

So the Florida government has invited hunters to assist in addressing this serious environmental problem. People will be allowed to hunt the pythons around the snakes’ breeding grounds for one month, starting January 12.

Officials are even offering cash prizes to the person who kills the most pythons and to the person who kills the longest Burmese python. They are hoping the contest will significantly reduce the population of this dangerous invader.

“Our goal is to help get rid of the python from the wild, educate the public about the snake’s impact on the Florida ecosystem, and inform them of what impacts non-native pets can have if allowed into the wild,” Segelson says.

PROBLEM PETS

Last January, the U.S. government banned Burmese pythons and other big snakes from being brought into the country as pets.

For pet owners who love snakes, species like the Burmese python can seem manageable when they are small. But they can grow into big trouble. Over time, these sizable snakes can disrupt food chains in fragile ecosystems.

Experts say it’s unlikely the snakes will ever be removed from the wild in Florida. But they hope to bring the python problem under control and prevent the snakes from doing more harm.

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