To the editor,
As manager of Florida’s fish and wildlife resources, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is diligent in protecting native species and habitats. When an exotic species invades our natural landscape, it is our duty to do everything possible to ensure those invaders do not expand their range and harm the fragile balance of Florida’s unique and abundant wildlife.
The Burmese python threatens that balance in the Everglades. A non-venomous constrictor, it preys on native Florida species of mammals, birds and reptiles. The appetite of the Burmese python poses a serious threat to some of Florida’s already endangered species. For example, Burmese pythons have eaten Key Largo woodrats, a federally endangered species.
We must do everything possible now to stop its spread into other areas. To that end, we began a python permit program on July 17 as a way to manage this unwanted species effectively. Under this program, the FWC hand-picked seven herpetologists to receive permits to go on specific FWC-managed lands and search for all Reptiles of Concern, including the Burmese python, and euthanize the snakes. We chose experts who know how to handle these large reptiles. Furthermore, we require the python be killed on site to ensure that none of these snakes escapes into other areas.
The permit holders may use hand-held instruments to kill the pythons but, under the current program, they may not use firearms or traps. Again, the professionalism of these permit holders ensures that the pythons are disposed of quickly and efficiently. The scientific data collected from these pythons will assist FWC biologists in learning more about this predator in the Everglades. And every time a python is destroyed, it means there is one less python slithering through the wilds of Florida.
The American Veterinary Medical Association provides a laudable set of objectives for euthanasia of animals in laboratory and research settings. However, these objectives are not always practical in the wild. The AVMA’s objectives are guidelines, but are not mandatory.
The FWC has been committed to preventing the spread of nonnative species throughout the state. In January 2008, the Commission approved revised regulations for nonnative and captive wildlife that require anyone owning a Reptile of Concern to be permitted through the FWC. We define a Reptile of Concern as a reptile that has habits that may adversely affect the environment or may be a threat to public safety. Reptiles of Concern must be licensed by the FWC to be kept as a pet. The license costs $100 per year and mandates specific caging requirements. Reptiles of Concern more than two inches in diameter must be implanted with a microchip that identifies the animal.
It is unlawful to allow these exotic pets to escape or to release them into the wild. The FWC holds Nonnative Pet Amnesty Days throughout the year so people who can no longer keep or care for a nonnative pet can bring them to us for adoption by licensed recipients. We have made every effort to ensure that no more of these pythons are allowed to escape into the wild.
Our python permit program is just the beginning. We are working with Everglades National Park, the South Florida Water Management District, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and others on this problem. How the pythons are disposed of is not the issue; how we work together to solve a problem is. All groups nonprofits, governmental and private should be working toward one goal in the case of the Burmese python in the Everglades, which is their eradication from a place where they do not belong.
The FWC’s main responsibility remains to reduce populations of a problematic species to minimize impacts to native fish and wildlife, their habitats and to residents of Florida.
Chairman, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission