Over the past century, as developers of the Florida Keys gobbled up pristine real estate, the federal government created four refuges along the island chain to protect wildlife and preserve habitat.
But in the safe havens for nature, not all creatures are welcome.
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service wants to remove all nonnative predators. On Monday, after several heated public meetings with animal advocates, the federal agency will unveil a 44-page draft plan on how it recommends it should do so.
The compromise plan includes live trapping and some euthanization.
``It's a real controversial thing -- some people believe every animal has a right to live,'' said Anne Morkill, manager of the Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuge Complex that encompasses the Key Deer, Key West, Great White Heron and Crocodile Lake preserves.
The refuges' unwanted are a hodgepodge of exotic and abandoned intruders: Virginia opossums, nine-banded armadillos, common boa constrictors, Burmese pythons, Gambian pouch rats, black rats, green iguanas, the Nile Monitor, black spiny-tailed iguana, imported red fire ants, and especially, free-roaming cats.
Refuge biologists say these nonnative predators are messing up the natural ecosystem and ``posing a grave danger'' to the native species, which include 30 protected by the Endangered Species Act and some found nowhere else in the world.
The native animals and birds of the island chain already have been dealing with a greatly reduced habitat due to development that came with Henry Flagler's railroad and a booming tourist trade.
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