So says the greeting message for the Florida Keys python hotline, 888-IVE-GOT1. Over the years enough pet Burmese pythons in south Florida have been released into the wild that one National Park Service scientist has estimated now there could be as many as 30,000 of them in the Everglades National Park area. (Between 1996 and 2006 about 99,000 were imported into the United States).
Burmese pythons can grow up to 20 feet long and weigh up to 200 pounds. Their appetite for local wildlife is endangering protected species that are vulnerable to any predators, especially ones as capable as the huge snakes. Research by the University of Florida identified the remains of the following wild Florida animals in the digestive tracts of the invading pythons: alligator, rabbit, two types of rats, domestic cat, cotton mouse, gray squirrel, fox squirrel, raccoon, oppossum, bobcat, muskrat, rice rat, white-tailed deer, Key Largo woodrat, and six species of birds. In 2006 it was discovered by scientists that pythons are breeding in Everglades National Park. A female can lay 80 eggs at a time.
Last year the Nature Conservancy started an Eyes and Ears community patrol using people like utility workers, mail carriers and police to prevent the large snakes from taking up residence in the Florida Keys. Special training is given to the volunteer groups. Members of the public can assist their efforts by calling sightings into the hotlines, and should never approach a python if they see one nearby. Pythons do not usually attack or eat humans, but it has happened. In 2008 a volunteer zookeeper was killed by a 10 foot constrictor in a cage.
The python invasion must be curtailed, or they could establish themselves in the Florida Keys and devastate the already fragile wildlife populations. About eight large adult pythons have already been spotted in the Keys, but currently it is thought they are not yet breeding there. Another major concern is that the huge predators will move throughout the Southern states and start decimating other native wildlife.
Senator Bill Nelson, a Democrat from Florida lamented up the python situation:
“If we do not take action now, we will let python populations in Florida continue to grow and further ravage the already-fragile Everglades, as well as risk letting them spread throughout the southern portion of the United States”.