The picture quickly became famous. A 13 foot python, formerly someone’s pet, but released in the Florida Everglades, swallowed an entire alligator, but it literally bit off far more than it could chew. After killing the alligator and swallowing it whole, the python eventually burst, splitting open with a mostly not digested alligator still in its stomach. The picture can still be found at this web site: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/9600151. But after 2005, this seemed to fade into memory and not come up again. Does this mean that this was an isolated instance?
Unfortunately, the answer is a loud and resounding NO. The infestation of the Burmese Python in the Everglades first hit the stages as a problem in 2005, but it has steadily gotten worse since that first picture was forgotten. The problem, or problems (to be more accurate), have grown larger and larger-both in numbers and in size.
The Florida Everglades is such a different ecosystem that jungle species can survive there. Animals even like monkeys can live and survive there. Many pythons are brought into the country legally as pets and gifts, but once these killer snakes get to big they’re dumped. Problem is, the swamps of the Everglades are so tropic like that the snakes thrive and damage the ecosystem, sometimes beyond repair.
These pythons can grow over 20 feet long, and are deadly enough to kill alligators. The damage they do to the natural ecosystem is nearly impossible to measure, and the problem is that once established comfortably, they are nearly impossible to eradicate completely. In a park the sheer size of the Florida Everglades, that problem is only exacerbated. In a country that has brought in well over 100,000 pythons, this is a huge problem. Even if the importing of pythons were to be made illegal, there are too many already here to reverse the trend.
Since the mid 1990s over 70 pythons have been captured or killed by the park rangers, but the large rise in snakes being found an killed also is ominous: it means the population of pythons has boomed to the point where they are easy to find and run into. Several endangered species could be threatened by the python, and may even end up extinct because of this non-native species.
Invasive species are often not a high priority politically, and the result is often that the problem is already out of hand and nearly unstoppable before any action is taken, and even then it is usually too little, too late. The best hope in most situations is to control it, but with a park as huge as the Everglades, and with how much area is inhospitable to humans, that could be impossible. When black bears and alligators are threatened by this snake, there’s nothing left that can naturally fend them off.
There is no doubt that hundreds of pythons are in the Everglades, and in all likelihood there are now probably thousands. The very first python was found in the Everglades in 1979, and then there was a long quiet period until several were found in 1995 and they have grown ever since. Hundreds of pythons have been sited, and there were even reports that one employee mowing large grass found five large pythons in one day, and they’re expanding to areas outside of the park, as well.
With massive budget cuts to the Parks and Recreation Service, as well as to the EPA, it doesn’t seem likely that the problem will be able to be handled now, or maybe ever. The only hope is that maybe the alligators are strong enough to hold off the pythons and keep them contained. If not, it might be only a matter of time until the Florida Everglades becomes another Guam. The problem hasn’t gone away, even if the news cameras have.
List of Sources:
Stefan Lovgren, “Huge, Freed Pet Pythons Invade Florida Everglades” http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2004/06/0603_040603_invasivespecies.html
Maryann Mott, “Invasive Pythons Squeezing Florida Everglades” http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2005/10/1028_051028_pythons.html
“Gator Guzzling Python Comes to Messy End” http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/9600151