Snakes on a plain!'and in our swamps and backyards, too
The Everglades has lots of problems. Among the National Parks, it gets ranked almost dead last by environmental groups as a result of development, farmland runoff (primarily the sugar industry’s), canal-clogging invasive species of vegetation, global warming and now—get this—snakes.
While snakes make up a small percentage of this country’s pets, they’re an increasingly popular pet here in South Florida. The big guys (pythons and boas) are doing so well in their suburban homes that their owners are hard-pressed to know what to do with them once they reach a certain size (ten feet, anyone?).
It’s a scary proposition for these herp-lovers—especially when infants come into the picture. So what’s a serpentophile to do? Many, unfortunately, surrender their charges into the wilds of our nearby Everglades. Bad idea.
Snakes slither through this comfortable, balmy landscape searching for good food. And they have no compunction about consuming their reptilian brethren. Alligators have been known to get into it with them—who struck first we may never know, but small alligator carcasses have been found inside these big snakes.
Otters, opossums (also non-native), raccoons and foxes are all potential prey, though small rodents presumably comprise the majority of their meals.
Rat-chasing aside, all non-native snakes, big or small, finding their way to the Everglades are starting to have a serious impact on the native wildlife. They unbalance the delicate, already-besieged habitats of numerous prey species—birds too, when they chomp down their eggs with glee or scavenge baby birds in their arborial nests. It’s getting to be a real problem.
And if the destruction of Everglades habitats doesn’t really do it for you, here’s a scary suburban story: Last year, a cat was lost. A python was loose. When Critter Control showed up to catch the cornered snake, its large, recent meal was visibly distending its abdomen. By way of basic investigation, local doc Dr. Chavez (sadly, he’s since relocated to California) snapped off a few choice X-rays. The retractable claws elucidated by the pics were unmistakably feline. It turned out to be Frances (and yet another good reason to keep your kitty indoors).
To combat the release of these non-native species, our Miami MetroZoo has come up with a great concept: amnesty day. This day marks the first local recognition of the problem that comes with an attached solution. I love it. It beats release—not good for the hungry snakes or their prey.
To boost this program, local laws are in the works to stem the tide of the reptile trade of some particularly invasive species. Permits for keepers of pets are the just tip of the iceberg, though. Somehow, people need to learn that remanding their pets to the wilds, however appropriate they may seem, have unforeseen consequences for us all.