Catching pythons with undercover snake cops

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The Florida Everglades is world-renown for alligators, herons, and miles and miles of marshy saw grass.

But the Everglades is becoming known for something else far more sinister, and unwelcome: Burmese Pythons.

These huge snakes, which can grow up to 20 feet long and weigh 200 pounds, are exploding in numbers in the Everglades, and eating everything in sight, according to Smithsonian Magazine.

The Burmese Python is not a native species to the Everglades. The snakes started to grow in numbers about 25 years ago when they were illegally released in the area. Nearby Miami was known as a hotbed for exotic pets, and many owners probably released the pythons after no longer wanting to care for them. Additionally, in 1992, a breeding facility for pythons was wrecked by Hurricane Andrew, allowing many of the reptiles to escape into the wild.

Now, no one knows how many pythons are in the area. It could be 10,000 or it could be as many as hundreds of thousands of snakes.

The problem is that the pythons are eating all the small mammals (and some large ones) in the region. While it was frequent in the past for visitors to the area and Everglades National Park to run into raccoons, opossums, and rabbits, today, sightings of these animals are almost nonexistent.

This will have a huge impact on the ecosystem of the Everglades if the warpath of the Burmese Python is not stopped.

Enter in some conservationists and researchers who are employing a unique strategy to limit the Burmese Python’s damage.

Smithsonian Magazine reports:

Since 2013, the [Conservancy of Southwest Florida] has been tracking what it calls ‘sentinel snakes.’ These are male Burmese pythons in whom radio transmitters have been surgically implanted (placing transmitters outside the body having proved impractical with snakes). The team tracks 23 of these pythons, each signaling at its own radio frequency. Dots on the satellite map indicated where each snake had been heard from last.”

According to conservationists, it will be almost impossible to completely remove the python from the Everglades. They are too adaptable, and far too adept at camouflage and hiding to ever eliminate their presence. The key is to try to limit their numbers; and these undercover cop “sentinel snakes” lead researchers to where the alien species is laying their eggs after mating.

According to universally known cop lore, undercover police are arrested with the criminals they’ve been investigating, so as not to blow their cover. Not so with sentinel snakes, who are left to identify more targets. The other pythons out there never seem to suspect. Elvis, the longest-surviving sentinel, who is also the longest continuously tracked Burmese python in the world (since 2013), has led the team to 17 other pythons, and has been recaught numerous times to have his transmitter’s battery replaced.”

Will this undercover python cop (or perhaps a better term is “python snitch”) strategy work? Only time will tell.

The Everglades, and its dwindling cadre of small mammals, are depending on it.

Read the full story in Smithsonian Magazine here.

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* This article was originally published here

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