Four types of giant snakes that have been plaguing the Everglades are now banned from being imported into the United States or transported across state lines, federal officials announced Tuesday.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar publicized the new U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rule during a visit to the Everglades. It applies to the Burmese python, yellow anaconda and the northern and southern African pythons, the four types of massive constrictor snakes that have become increasingly present in the swampland.
The snakes can grow to be 26 feet long and more than 200 pounds and threaten indigenous species. They've been found to kill and swallow animals as large as deer and alligators, and Salazar said they threaten all the work being done to restore the Everglades to its natural ecosystem.
"It does us no good to put in these billion dollars of investment in the Everglades only to have these giant invasive constrictor snakes come in here and undo the good that we are doing," he said.
The rule will be published in the Federal Register in the coming days. It will take effect 60 days later and applies to not only live snakes, but viable eggs, hybrids and gametes, which are the male reproductive cells.
"These giant constrictor snakes do not belong in the Everglades and they do not belong in people's backyards," said Sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat who has been outspoken on the issue and who appeared with Salazar on Tuesday.
Pythons have become a growing problem in Florida's revered swampland. Many are believed to have been pets that were dumped once they grew too big; others may have escaped from pet shops during 1992's Hurricane Andrew and have been reproducing ever since.
Thousands are believed to be living in the Everglades.
The new rule omits five species of snakes that initially were expected to be banned, leading some to criticize it as watered down.
"This rule was swallowed up in the federal government for 22 months and put through a political meat grinder, leaving us with a severely diminished final action," said Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States.
Among those spared from the rule were boa constrictors.
Dan Ashe, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said additional species would continue to be reviewed for possible action, but that the four types of snakes that are now banned pose the greatest threat.
Besides the effect the new ban has on curbing an invasive species and protecting native wildlife, it could also protect people who are threatened by the snakes. Salazar, Nelson and Ashe posed with a 13-foot-long, 90-pound Burmese python that was found in a Palmetto Bay resident's pool last month.
In 2009, a pet Burmese python escaped from its terrarium and strangled a 2-year-old girl in her central Florida home.