Thousands of pythons invading the Florida Everglades -

Thousands of pythons invading the Florida Everglades

An alarming report issued by the U.S. Geological study: there are, right now, thousands of Burmese Pythons on the loose in the wetlands of Florida… their population is growing, and officials fear they could eventually spread into other Southeastern States.

The story of how they got there is so bizarre, you wouldn't believe it if you saw it in a Hollywood movie. In august 1992, Hurricane Andrew slammed into Southern Florida. The category 5 hurricane left a trail of unprecedented devastation, and claimed 40 lives. But no one imagined the storm's most strange and frightening fallout, which would not become apparent until now.

National Park Rangers in the Florida Everglades are spotting a large predator species that does not belong there… Pythons!

Jules Sylvester, America Now's animal handler says, "The Burmese Python gets up to about 22 to 23 feet. They shouldn't be in the Everglades, obviously." Jules knows a thing or two about snakes being where they shouldn't. As one of Hollywood's top reptile wranglers, he's made audiences jump by placing snakes in a bed, in a swimming pool and, of course, on a plane.

But this is a true story! Burmese Pythons in the Florida Everglades! Wildlife experts say the giant snakes, native to Southeast Asia, were being housed in an exotic pet dealer's warehouse in Homestead, Florida. When the town took a direct hit from Hurricane Andrew, the animal warehouse was destroyed… and many of the 900 Burmese Pythons living there were blown into the Everglades.

Sylvester says, "It wasn't the giant ones that were blown out there. They were too heavy. The smaller ones, the babies, two, three-footers, were blown out. So for 9 or 10 years, they've been cruising around the Everglades, feeding on stuff."

That's what has wildlife experts concerned. The snake's size and power puts it at the top of the food chain, posing a threat to indigenous and endangered species.

"Where you going to go to get away from this python if you're a fat rodent like that? Go down a hole, he'll follow you. Climb up a tree, he'll follow you. Go in the water, he can swim. Go in thick bush, he'll track you with his tongue," says Sylvester.

Pythons have even been documented to take on alligators. And while attacks on humans are extremely rare, Burmese Pythons can pose a danger to people.

Sylvester warns, "Big pythons kill by constriction. But, snakes will always bite first. They'll lunge, get a hold of you, hook you with those teeth, pull you back all in one motion, and wrap at the same time."

"So in theory, this is actually more dangerous than a rattlesnake or a cobra because they can actually take you down to the floor in 15 seconds. 35 seconds, 40 seconds, you're done. There's no venom in the world faster than a good squeeze," says Sylvester.

So what do you do if you run across a Burmese Python, whether in Florida or any other state? Jules' number one piece of advice… keep your distance.

"They're slow moving, but very fast striking. And it's surprising how far out they can reach out and touch somebody. If you're me, I'm going to try and catch it. That's what I do. If you're not used to snakes, walk away from it. Other than that, leave him alone. Cause they will bite you," says Sylvester.

The actual number of Burmese Pythons in the Everglades is unclear. Estimates range from 10,000 up to 150,000. Florida wildlife officials have issued permits to reptile experts to hunt and kill the giant snakes. They hope that will slow down the growing population, and keep them from migrating into other southern states. Jules is skeptical of concerns about the pythons migrating north. That's because the greatest threat to their survival is not predators… it's the weather.

"Most pythons stay within the tropics. It's the warmest, the temperature's pretty more consistent, humid, jungley. You go further north, it gets pretty damn cold. Will they make it through the wintertime in New York City? No. He's not that kind of snake."

Jules believes even Florida's occasional cold spells will keep the Burmese Python population there under control. But if you visit Florida in the near future and you see a Python, remember… keep your distance!

Copyright 2011 America Now.  All rights reserved.

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