United States: Python proliferation

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    A 16-foot python at the Miami Metrozoo.
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A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correrspondent.

MIAMI – When the Miami Metrozoo held its Non-native Pet Amnesty Day a few weeks ago, more than 100 animals were relinquished. Among them were 11 Burmese pythons.

That’s 11 pythons the Venom 1 Unit of the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Department won’t have to deal with, but the number pales in comparison with the estimated 30,000 pythons that live nearby in Everglades National Park. Each year Venom 1 pulls pythons from air-conditioning units, swimming pools, and garages. And according to Capt. Ernie Jillson, the number is rising.

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The python dilemma originates with people who abandon their pets after 18-inch hatchlings grow into five-foot predators in the course of a year.

For decades unwanted pythons have been dropped off in the Everglades where they’ve formed colonies. Young snakes leave the colony to find mates, moving as rapidly as 1.5 miles a day. They’re happy to slither over the ground, to swim in fresh or salt water, and to eat just about anything.

In Miami, the python incursion is generating buzz. A rock band and a baseball team have been named for the snake. Perhaps in keeping with the fact that Floridians are accustomed to coexistence with less-than-friendly species, people seem more resigned than alarmed. That could change, of course.

In any case, officials have begun to form local Python Patrols, the first of which is up and running on Key Largo. A call to its hot line yields instructions: “If you are standing in front of a large snake right now, don’t panic. We will connect you directly to the sheriff’s dispatch.” The number? 1-888-IVE-GOT1.

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