South Florida police have captured a 12-foot, 120-pound Burmese python they believe was gobbling up neighborhood cats.
Sgt. Frank Sabol said an officer responded to a Port St. Lucie neighborhood Friday morning after residents said they'd seen a large snake. The Palm Beach Post () reports he extricated the snake from waist-high brush with the help of fellow officers. A dead cat was found in a nearby empty lot.
Researchers believe pythons are decimating populations of native mammals in the Everglades. Many are believed to have been pets that were dumped once they grew too big; others likely escaped from pet shops during Hurricane Andrew and have been reproducing rapidly.
Florida now prohibits owning or selling pythons for use as pets. Federal law bans importation and interstate sale of the species.
The Palm Beach Post reports that despite being included on the list in 2012, plus a cold-weather freeze in January 2013 that killed many snakes, pythons remain a serious threat and getting rid of them has proven difficult. A Burmese python can lay between 20-80 eggs each spring.
As reported this past year, federal wildlife officials alarmed by an infestation of Burmese pythons in the Florida Everglades have tried radio tracking collars, a massive public hunt and even snake-sniffing dogs to control the invasive species.
Now, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has been testing a trap that resembles a long, thin cage with a net at one end for the live capture of large, heavy snakes.
The Gainesville field station for the National Wildlife Research Center, which falls under the USDA, has been testing the trap in a natural enclosure that contains five pythons.
The 5-foot-long trap is made from galvanized steel wire with a tightly woven net secured to one end. Two separate triggers need to be tripped simultaneously for it to close, which should keep it from snapping shut on such native snakes as the eastern diamondback rattlesnake or the water moccasin.
"The largest native snakes are generally somewhat smaller than the youngest of the pythons," Humphrey said. "That was the impetus of the design."
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission allows hunters with special permits to remove pythons and other exotic reptiles from some state lands. In 2013, a state-sanctioned hunt attracted worldwide media attention. Roughly 1,600 amateur python hunters joined the permit holders for a month, netting a total of 68 snakes.
In an Auburn University experiment, specially trained dogs found more pythons than their human counterparts, but researchers also found that the dogs, much like humans, would falter the longer they worked in South Florida's often oppressive humidity.