Florida plans to hunt Burmese pythons

The Miami HeraldJuly 15, 2009 

The python posse is coming to the Everglades.

Florida wildlife managers are poised to unleash a team of trained hunters to track and kill the giant snakes on state lands.

"We've got to start doing something," said Rodney Barreto, chairman of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. "Gov. Crist wants to take action to stop the spread of this snake."

The program, which Barreto said he expected the governor to sign off on Wednesday, would be the first of what could turn into a two-fanged assault on a serpent that routinely grows longer than a Hummer. Florida Sen. Bill Nelson on Tuesday also called for organizing a controlled hunt in the federal lands of Everglades National Park.

"There's one way to do this: kill the snakes," Nelson said in an e-mail.

While the FWC is still considering placing a bounty on the constrictors, the state's initial program will be similar to its handling of wayward alligators.

The dangerous business of capturing a snake that crushes and swallows its prey whole will be left to professionals -- perhaps 20 trappers at first who could be cleared to begin taking out pythons within a week.

"This is not the wild, wild West. These people will be licensed, trained and managed by us," said Barreto, who has been pushing for a python eradication program for two years as the snakes began showing up in increasing numbers in the state-owned water conservation areas north of the national park's Tamiami Trail boundary.

Over the past decade, park biologists have charted an alarming explosion in the python population, now estimated at 100,000-plus in the park alone.

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