posted 2010 Oct by Merle Snook
By now most of us have seen that incredible photo of the giant python split in the mid section with an alligator protruding from its exposed inside. The struggle for survival must have been epic, rolling and thrashing in a death match which neither survived. It was a most dramatic event and a testament as to what is happening in the swamps of the Florida Everglades.
The American alligator, just as much a king in his domain as the African lion in his, is being challenged for territory by an outsider...and so far the bout is about even. In their new environment these released pythons breed and thrive, consuming fish, birds, small and medium sized animals including a number of threatened species. In some cases growing to over 20 ft in length and weighing in at over two hundred pounds, their challengers are few.
These "pet" pythons are being released into the wild by owners who, at some point in time, come to realize that an oversize and agressive python no longer can be contained in a 3 ft. glass aquarium. Perhaps they never did belong in urban and suburban living rooms but none the less, there they are. What to do? The South Florida swamps are a seemingly better environment so pack them up and off we go. A portion of the problem is that most of the released pythons are not the small "pet" size. Owners are dropping off the mid size and larger pythons and they like small and mid size alligators on their menu. Less small gators means less mature breeding gators which could cause an environmental imbalance in the near future.
With numbers of pythons now estimated in the tens of thousands, state agencies stepped in and began licensing hunters to bring this environmental problem under control. How is the state program working you may ask. Well, in 2009 only 367 pythons were confirmed as trapped. How's your math? With an estimate of a population in the tens of thousands (and they're breeding) and trappers bringing in less than 400 last year, who do you think is winning?
An unusually cold Florida winter in 2009/2010 certainly has erraticated a percentage of the python population but even if there are several of these unseasonably cold winters in the future, a new system needs to be found. The survival of the wild American alligator may depend on it.