Florida wildlife officials have boosted their efforts against Burmese pythons by inviting the public to join the fight, but some researchers and breeders disagree on the severity of the python problem.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) began free Python Patrol workshops in January to train civilians on how to identify, report and safely capture Burmese pythons, a major non-native predator in the Florida Everglades.
The workshops are designed to help manage the reptile population by increasing the number of people that can correctly identify the python and report it.
“That’s our best tool,” said Liz Barraco, a spokesperson for the FWC.
The FWC Burmese python management effort relies heavily on early detection, she said. Wildlife officials have a better chance to remove the python before it settles in if a python is spotted in a new area and immediately reported.
But some people believe the Burmese python is not as big of a threat to the Everglades and Florida as it is made out to be.
“This horse has been beat so many times,” said Eugene Bessette, commercial snake breeder and owner of Ophiological Services, a snake farm on Archer Road.
Even though Burmese pythons are not indigenous to South Florida, Bessette said he feels they are ultimately not an ecological problem.
“Ignorance is the biggest problem,” Bessette said. “People form opinions before they get the facts.”
Bessette lost a substantial part of his business when new regulations put in place in 2012 banned the importation and interstate transportation of Burmese pythons and three other constrictor snakes.
Burmese pythons were Bessette’s primary source of income at the time of the new regulation. After the regulation passed, he had to sell all of his existing inventory of Burmese pythons, stop breeding and change his business plan to focus on other snakes.
“I had to kill my sacred cow,” he said.
Bessette thinks Burmese pythons should not be in the Everglades, but believes they will eventually fit into the area food chain.
“Burms are here to stay,” he said.
Not everyone agrees with this theory.
About 150 non-indigenous amphibians and reptiles have found their way to Florida, with seven new species introduced in 2011, according to a 2012 study published by Kenneth Krysko, a senior biological scientist in the Division of Herpetology at the Florida Museum of Natural History.
He said it is impossible to know if the ecosystem will balance out. If a balance does occur, it is speculative to predict when it will happen or what it will look like.
Krysko said wherever the Burmese pythons go, they will likely cause the same damage to other native ecosystems and wildlife that they have caused in southern Florida.
Damage directly caused by pythons is largely inflicted on other native wildlife including rabbit, fowl and other small animal populations, according to Krysko.
More regulations and prevention efforts are necessary in order to do what’s best for the environment and the native wildlife, he said.
Bessette said he wants people to educate themselves on all the environmental issues that involve the Everglades so regulation, legislation, money and effort will be spent in the most effective way to address the wildlife conservation needs as a whole.
“People are the problem,” Bessette said. “People are the solution.”