The Florida Everglades was an untouched paradise until settlers arrived in the early 19th century. Which their arrival they brought new non-native species of animals and plants. Many of these species have flourished in this delicate ecosystem. Today the Florida wildlife commission has many plants, mammals, and reptiles that are all listed as established non-native, or invasive species.
One of the most widely known invasive reptiles is the Burmese python; which became established in the early 1980s. Many of my clients ask me when we are on tour how did the snakes get here? I explain that there was a breeding facility that was destroyed during Hurricane Andrew in 1992, but the snakes were in the area before then and in many cases, it is because of the exotic pet trade. In many cases you can acquire permits to own exotic animals and keep them in your home, some animals didn’t need permits at all.
In many instances some of these animals were able to break free of their enclosures and escape. Sometimes the pet owners were no longer able to take care of them so they wanted to set them free and live a happy life. People have let these animals go and they have made their way into the Florida Everglades.
For animals such as the Burmese python and Boa Constrictors, the Florida Everglades offers an amazing habitat for them. They can disappear into the vast marshes and survive easily. These animals are masters of camouflage and stealth. The animal can lay very still and when prey is close it will quickly strike and wrap itself around the animal constricting it until it dies. Even for a large animal it can dislocate the hinges of his jaw and begin swallowing the animal whole. Sometimes the snake wins, sometimes the gator wins.
There have been documented cases of pythons swallowing gators. Aerial photography from helicopters has shown large snakes laying out on a bed of sawgrass with a very large gator in its belly. Up until the 1980s the American alligator was the top predator in the Florida Everglades. It appears that those days are gone.
With the introduction of these invasive snakes, gators are now on their menu as well as birds, turtles, and fish. In an effort to try and control the outbreak of the snakes there have been special hunts designated to try and catch and kill these animals. With the vast territory of the Florida Everglades, it is my opinion that these hunts will not even put a dent in the situation. The snakes are now listed as a conditional species in Florida and can no longer be acquired as pets in the state. You are no longer allowed to transport the snakes across state lines.
The snakes are not only contained to South Florida. There have been snakes found moving northwest through the state indicating that they were released or escaped pets.
These animals are potentially dangerous to humans as well. Since these python can grow up to lengths of 20 feet, and lay as many as 30 to 40 eggs per year; we are talking about a very dangerous animal that can cause a lot of harm to our environment and potentially human life.
At this moment researchers estimate the numbers to be between 30,000 and upwards of 300,000 pythons that likely occupy South Florida, which is just another way of saying they have no idea. However, between 2000 and 2011 almost 1800 pythons were removed from the Everglades National Park and surrounding areas.