Invasive species are nonnative plants and animals that are brought into an ecosystem by humans. They threaten the local ecosystems and will sometimes outcompete and overtake the local plant and animal life. When they are in an environment where they are uncontested by their usual predators and competitors, they will multiply until they are draining an area of its resources. This leaves the local species with less habitat and decreasing numbers, along with the risk that they may be hunted by these invasive species.
In Florida, the hospitable environment has set it up is especially susceptible to invading plants and animals. One of the animals at the forefront of this problem in Florida are the burmese pythons. Burmese pythons were initially brought as pets to Florida, but owners often didn’t expect the care that the snake needed.
So, they were released into the wild where they found they thrived in the Florida environment. They did incredibly well in the Everglades National Park, and have been cited as a main reason that the mammal population in the area has steeply decreased.
Many of the animals the python are already threatened due to large loss of habitat. It also has a large diet, sometimes feeding on mammals such as marsh rabbits and possums, as well as wading birds, and sometimes alligators. They also compete with other predators such as panthers for deer, raccoons, and smaller mammals. With no natural predators of its own the python effectively doesn’t have to worry about their own numbers dwindling either.
These consequences have prompted measures to remove them and to prevent other species from being released. Everglades National Park and its partners have spent over 10 years looking into how to remove the pythons from the park. One measure for prevention that has been employed is the Exotic Pet Amnesty program, which allows those who are unable to care for exotic animals to give them over to the organization that can. This stops people from releasing their pets into the wild because there is a reliable place to surrender them to. Since its creation in 2006, the Exotic Pet Amnesty Program has saved over two thousand animals from wild release. Another measure is to educate Floridians on how to report invasive animals they spot in the wild. One of these systems is REDDy, a free online course that is built to teach people about how to recognize and report large invasive reptiles. People trained in the recognition of these species are vital in finding and capturing them according to the University of Florida.
As these measures for awareness and prevention of invasive species has become more common, it’s likely that the number of pythons has gone down. If people are aware of things like the Pet Amnesty program, there will be a drop in the number of people simply releasing animals they can no longer take care of. The push for locals to go out to find and report sightings of these species should cause a decrease in the overall population of the pythons in Florida, which is what this study aims to prove. Activism in protecting the local species by ridding of competitive invading plants and animals should lead to the conservation of local ecosystems.
In order to see the effectiveness of the programs the Nature Conservancy and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has commissioned, the experiment has to be moved south where the pythons are more common. Pythons are primarily found threatening the Florida Everglades.
However, places deep in the Everglades are dangerous for human travel, and are closed off to prevent harm of the local wildlife and of human tourists. This means that when looking for active hotspots, it will be necessary to stay on approved paths and search diligently. Along with looking for pythons, other local species will be noted such as the Wood stork, White Ibis, and Marsh Rabbit. This process of taking note of each animal spotted will be carried out everyday for a three day period. This will help accumulate more data on how often they were seen as compared to periods in previous years. At the end of the week, the animals sighted will be averaged. The species being looked for should be species that are commonly pray for the burmese python, and that are likely able to be found while looking each day.
No pythons were sighted during the three days that the experiment were covered. This could be attributed to a decrease in pythons, but it’s much more likely that they simply didn’t come where people often tread. This experiment would need to be conducted over the course of the year to get results that could properly prove or disprove that there is a decrease in the population of burmese pythons in Florida. Pythons don’t eat daily, which makes looking for them more difficult. It’s also difficult to draw connections between the measures being taken and the decrease of pythons. There are too many outside variables to draw a direct connection between environmental measures by Florida and the numbers of pythons. The numbers could be lowered due to things like climate change, loss of habitat for all animals, pollution, and other human interference with ecosystems. It’s difficult to quantify how effective Florida activism is with number of animals alone, because there is also the potential of vast increases or decreases based on environmental changes and natural disasters.
As of May of 2018, 1,000 Burmese pythons has been captured since they established in the end of the 20th century. But, the python population has continued to grow far faster than hunters can catch them. One female can lay up to 100 eggs a year, and with a lifespan of 15 years, the pythons can more than replace how many have been caught by hunters(Matt Morrison of CBS News). All strategies that have been employed to reduce these numbers have had a limited range of access, including seeking help from locals. Thick vegetation reduces visibility when human search teams are employed. They also hold odors which reduces the effectiveness of dog search teams, being only around 9% more successful(Auburn University). The use of bounty hunters initially received a large amount of support. In 2013 month-long event was held, using cash incentives for the capture of pythons in the Everglades. The event only resulted in 68 captures across the 1,600 registered participants in the entire month, showing their usage to be all but useless(NPR News).
With this external information, it appears as though the lack of sightings was not due to a fall in the species. Human search teams have had extensive trouble tracking down any pythons, so it wasn’t likely to run into them while simply walking around the park. They are repopulating as quickly as ever with no effective way of getting rid of them. The introduction of new predators has been suggested, but this would pose the risk of them becoming a new overtaking species. In natural environments big cats and birds of prey most often feed on them.
These would obviously also prey on the other already threatened wildlife, and would continue to compete with the very limited population of the florida panther for deer and raccoons. It seems the only measures will be either wide scale human hunting, or the introduction of a unique disease to eliminate the python numbers. This could put much of the other wildlife at risk, and would be quite costly to create, test, and to administer. There also wouldn’t be guarantee that it would spread throughout the python population. There’d be many risks, but if it could effectively decrease the populations it would help immensely in the revival of the native species.