This white and yellow Burmese Python is a land shark - slithering through the grass, looking for warm-blooded animals it can crush and swallow. It can travel in water or on land and likes to lurk along waterways, waiting for a meal to come by. Photo by Martin Ferko, Edit International
JURASSIC PARK IN FLORIDA?
“Every time you breathe out the snake increases its coil pressure and locks down until there is no room for your lungs to bring in air and you suffocate.” Lt. Jeff Fobb, Burmese Python snake hunter….
By Ron Laytner
Photos by Martin Ferko and Ron Laytner
Edit International 2012
FLORIDA EVERGLADES - It seemed perfect when the US Government took control almost 90 years ago.
The vast wilderness of grass and water stretching 50 miles wide and 100 long across the lower half of Florida was named Everglades National Park
Inside the swamps, mangroves, grass and waters, millions of creatures have lived in natural harmony for 5,000 years - but now the entire system is in danger.
The Everglades may be turning into some kind of movie-land Jurassic Park. It’s being invaded by a dangerous predator.
There are no Hollywood raptors or dinosaurs in the Everglades but there are now large snakes from Burma that can swallow whole, small children, birds, dogs and cats and fish.
Alligators have long been the most dangerous resident of the Everglades but the snakes are eating them too.
And there are now perhaps 2,000 bad-tempered giant up to 7-foot-long prehistoric Nile Monitor lizards that can rip a man’s hand off, eat his dog, stay underwater an hour, climb trees, dig tunnels or chase prey at 15 miles an hour.
And let’s hope private owners of the huge and venomous Komodo Dragons don’t tire of them and let them off in the Everglades to breed. The dragons are about ten feet long, weigh 150 pounds and could be the final ‘Jurassic Park’ straw. That is, unless someone drops off a couple of South American Anaconda snakes – twice as big as the Burmese python.
There are estimates of over 100,000 Burmese pythons and they are fast becoming the most dangerous predator in the Everglades. All kinds of pets, dogs, cats, pigs and birds are being crushed and sucked into the creatures’ bodies.
It's estimated that all regular warm-blooded animals are down in numbers by 99 per cent.
A two-year-old Florida girl was killed when a pet Burmese python got lose in her home, crawled into her bed, wrapped around her and crushed her to death. The girl’s head had been part-way into the snake’s expanded jaws when she was found.
The python is a ground shark looking everywhere for food. The cold blooded eating machine slithers throughout the bush, swims in Everglades waters and crawls onto pathways and roads around the national park, warming up and basking in the late afternoon sun.
They are being found in Florida cities under private homes, bridges, parked cars and on roadways and private lawns. It’s so bad that former Florida Governor Charlie Christ ordered posse hunts by licensed hunters to get rid of the snakes.
Until recently there have been just seven Florida licensed python hunters: One is Jeff Fobb, the snake antidote expert with the venom unit of Miami-Dade-Fire Rescue. He says, “There is no way to kill them off. I think we should let them live.”
But he’s sworn to track down and capture the snakes, to kill them by cutting off their heads, check what is inside their cavernous bodies, take the temperature of the ground where he captured the snake and then send in GPS co-ordinates to the Florida Everglades Commission.
Night snake hunters from as far away as Tennessee and New York walk down roadways of old abandoned US underground missile bases inside the Everglades. They face mosquitoes flying in clouds and crawling into their mouths.
Miami Metro Zoo’s expert, Ron Magill, says, “The Burmese python certainly presents a problem. I don’t believe there are over 100,000 of them but there certainly are thousands. Each snake produces fifty eggs each breeding season.”
A large python eats something every day. One third of the United States is believed suitable for the Burmese python to move into. Some areas are too cold, but, says Ron Magill, “animals can adapt, escape into burrows to avoid the cold, and pass this instinctive knowledge down from generation to generation. In 100 years Burmese pythons may be living all over America.”
Magill ran through everything we should know about the dangerous new predator: The Burmese python, like other snakes is cold-blooded. It does not chew food but swallows it. It’s then digested along with the bones with the help of strong acids inside the snake’s stomach.
They are not smart. They are simply looking for any small warm-blooded animal they can eat including birds. They are not aggressive and they do not seek out little children.
But the python that killed the two-year-old Florida girl was a house pet which got out of an open dry glass fish tank. It was hungry. It didn’t just suddenly turn into a man-hunter. It was a terrible tragedy but the girl presented a small, warm-blooded animal.
People are concerned about their children and pets. The snakes look for something they can wrap their coils around and suffocate – things like dogs which bark and are curious. They run up and investigate the totally still snake who suddenly grabs the dog.
The snake doesn’t have good vision and sometimes it sees something and strikes it and wraps around it then realizes it’s too big and leaves it alone but by then it’s too late and the victim is dead without being eaten.
Magill warns, “People must watch where they are walking, especially along waterways because these animals wait and lurk – they are not like a lion or a cheetah which attack their prey – these snakes wait in ambush for something to come along.
Victims leave a trail when they travel to and from their home. The snakes have a tremendous power of smell in their tongues and just wait for their meal to come by.
A snake 15 feet long and one hundred pounds can take down a small to medium human being. It can swallow a child or a small pig easily. It can surprise and shock by surprise and eat a young adult. The python has a mouth held together by ligaments that can expand and open up to three times its body size.
While the victim is shocked and stunned and not thinking clearly, the snake grabs their hand or foot in its four rows of puncture teeth and then wraps its coils around the victim’s waist.
Says Magill, “When you inhale your chest expands and when you breathe out it deflates. Every time you breathe out the snake increases its pressure and locks down until there is no room for your lungs to bring in air and you suffocate.”
MaGill hopes the python snake invasion may somehow end by an act of nature – some natural disease might come into the everglades and kill them through sickness. Or alligators, which they often eat, may learn how to kill them.
He says there is no way hunters can kill the thousands of snakes. A fire could but it would kill everything else
“There are so many dangerous creatures, pythons, monitors, crocodiles, alligators, I have been bitten many times – I have to keep the wounds open and not stitched to avoid blood poisoning and clean them daily with a dental waterpic. My hands are full of scars.”
Lt. Jeff Fobb, the fire fighter hunting Burmese Pythons, says, “I’ve been hunting snakes since I was six years old and kept most of those I caught and still have many in cages behind my home. I like snakes. I don’t hate them.
“But I’m licensed to capture and kill Burmese pythons and I hunt them at night – 6pm to midnight - and average about one python each ten mile walk into the Everglades with a couple of my good friends. We suffer the mosquito swarms together.
We meet up at a fruit stand called ‘Robert Is Here’ right at the edge of the Everglades, in fact they recently caught a large python in the place.
The last time we were out we met all kinds of native species, a ring-neck snake, a brown water snake and a black racer and a couple of black water snakes, but no Burmese pythons.”
He explained how he kills the snake. “Quickly and decisively! I use a very sharp knife to cut off its head so it doesn’t suffer. It’s certainly more humane than being killed by a natural predator like a hawk, an eagle or a big alligator. Then, there is a second cut of the snake’s spine. Otherwise the headless body can keep writhing for about 30 to 45 minutes.”
Fobb explains that people breed and buy and sell pythons. “They’re sort of cute when they’re small. But they grow quickly and require live food such as rabbits and chickens so that after a while it becomes too costly to keep them. Then their owners take them to the glades and drop them off into freedom without killing them.” He adds, The trouble is they are now coming into inhabited areas.
“We have animals in the everglades that are very dangerous – this is just another one. I’ve heard of Burmese pythons as long as 24 feet and weighing 150 pounds.”
But he warns, “Let’s hope we don’t get Anacondas into the Everglades. That would be really bad. They’re a very heavy body constrictor that feeds on a wide array of prey. They are from South America and live close to water. They can kill people. Pythons are 12 to 20 feet but Anacondas can get up to almost 40 feet.”
THE END –
The threat of the Burmese Python loomed over the Florida Everglades in 2009 and seemed unstoppable. THEN NATURE ANSWERED THE CALL.
In 2010 a terrible cold snap descended across North America resulting in the worst winter in forty years. In just ten days to two weeks most of the cold-blooded Burmese Pythons went into a cold sleep from which they never emerged. Millions of the big snakes and many millions of other cold-blooded creatures, from chameleons to alligators were lost in nature's fury.
But the weather is so unpredictable that the Burmese pythons are back in 2012. They are ready and waiting...
More photos >