11-year-old spotted huge Florida snake, underscoring state's alarm

Miami HeraldAugust 1, 2009 

Staff at the Okeechobee Veterinary Hospital routinely handle large animals. Along with pet dogs and cats, they treat hogs, horses, cows and bulls.

But the enormous critter that slithered uninvited onto the hospital grounds Thursday stunned everyone. It turned out to be one of the biggest Burmese pythons found roaming free in Florida.

The constrictor stretched 17 feet, two inches and measured 26 inches around at its thickest point. It weighed in at a staggering 207 pounds -- four pounds more than the Miami Dolphins' brawny No. 1 draft pick, Vontae Davis.

"It was a complete shock,'' said Patty Harvey, a technician at the hospital, which is just north of Lake Okeechobee. ``We see huge gators all the time being in Okeechobee, but you would never expect to see a snake this size.''

Florida wildlife managers pointed to the find as the latest, and largest, evidence that the exotic snake, which has settled into the Everglades, is spreading across the state.

"The capture of this large python shows us how well these snakes can thrive in the wild and create a dangerous situation after illegal release or escape,'' said Rodney Barreto, chairman of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. "It also illustrates why the FWC is partnering with other agencies to implement python control measures in South Florida.''

Two weeks ago, the FWC began an experimental permit program that allows reptile experts to euthanize Burmese pythons on state-managed lands around the Everglades, where the population is now estimated to number in the tens of thousands.

But the python patrol didn't bag the giant snake that made its way onto the hospital's 20-acre compound. It was spotted Thursday afternoon by Corey Surls, 11, whose uncle, veterinarian Jim Harvey, owns the hospital.

The boy spends a lot of time on the grounds and overheard construction workers, who are building an addition to the hospital, talk about a large snake they had seen in a ditch, Harvey said. "He runs over there and looks into the ditch and, lo and behold.''

Corey told WPBF in West Palm Beach that he was scared at first but, pointing to a cousin who went along, said "I was on the other side of the fence, so I knew it was going to get him first.''

He alerted his uncle. The veterinarian killed the snake with head shots from a .22 caliber rifle, Harvey said.

Though it is illegal to shoot pythons in state wildlife management areas or federal lands, the FWC says the snakes can be legally shot on private property if local laws allow gun use.

Afterward, the staff, still in hospital attire, posed for what Harvey called a ``once-in-a-lifetime'' photo.

It took eight of them to hold the snake. Harvey is third from left, grimacing.

"I am petrified of snakes,'' she said. "It was still moving. I guess their muscles move for a while even after they're dead.''

As one of the largest snakes in the world, sometimes topping 20 feet, Burmese pythons are considered a serious threat to native species. Everything from deer hooves to endangered rats has been pulled from their bellies.

Read the full story at MiamiHerald.com.

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