Sunday, March 28, 2010

Python season

Earlier this month the Florida newspaper heralded that python season was now open!

Python hunting season begins today

March 08, 2010|

Time to put those snake-stalking skills to work. State wildlife officials have created a special python hunting season to try to stop the spread of the nonnative snakes throughout the Everglades and the hunting begins today.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission says anyone with a hunting license who pays a $26 permit fee can kill the reptiles from today to April 17 on state-managed lands around the Everglades in South Florida.

The season is open for Burmese and Indian pythons, African rock pythons, green anacondas and Nile monitor lizards.

You see, Pythons are a nonnative - invasive - species. Florida does not want dangerous nonnatives in their state. it is perfectly reasonable. The animals can be dangerous, the newspaper articles (and fish and wildlife)sensationalize the dangers, so some action must be taken.

What is an invasive?

Invasive species tend to be highly competitive, highly adaptive and highly successful at reproducing. The lack of natural predators that normally keep an invasive species population in check is a key factor in a particular species' success, which in turn is devastating to the ecosystem that they come to inhabit. Many of the invasive species that have become common problems for people or the environment were introduced by way of ships. Unwittingly to humans, these species hitched a ride on the bottom of ships, in cargo or in ballast water. Some invasive species were introduced by explorers and travelers as pets or garden plants, or for other purposes such as pest control.

Usually they are accidents. Sometimes they are brought here on purpose, with the best of intentions and things get out of hand. The nutria is one example. It was brought here for its pelts. The beaver was getting rarer and rarer, and a new animal was needed for the fur trade. viola - nutria. Now they are destroying miles and miles of swampland as they move across the us.

There is a hunting season on nutria - year round - to help control the population but is that the way we normally deal with invasives? No. Unfortunately, the US has a split personality when it comes to critters.

If it is cute - we let them be.

It is easy to demonize snakes and reptiles, they are scaly and they don't blink. So how do we react to mammals that don't belong? No one really likes nutria, after all.

The top invasive mammal pests worldwide are rats, mice, cats, dogs, cattle, burros, horses, goats, hedgehogs, foxes, gray squirrels, coypus, pigs, possums, rabbits, deer, weasels, mink, and the mongoose.

Although they are considered invasive pests when feral in the wild, many of the top invasive mammals in the world lead a double life, as they are also desirable as pets and valuable as agricultural livestock. For example, cats, dogs, and rabbits are favored domestic pets and companions, but can be both a nuisance and a menace to ecosystems when turned loose in the wild. Similarly, horses and burros are used as pets and livestock, but in the wild they can damage ecosystems and deprive other species of food and water.

So can we act like Florida and open up a hunting season on these animals? Or is it just animals that are really dangerous to humans, like snakes.

Then get rid of the bees - they cause more deaths yearly than any other animal. What about horses? cows? These animals hurt more people than all of the snakes, lizards, and spiders in the country, combined.

What about damage done to ecosystems? Well then cats top the lists on that one.

Cats come in many colors, but they are not very green.

Fluffy, it turns out, is a serious threat to birds and other wildlife. But especially birds, which are in steep decline, according to a recent State of the Birds survey, which lists among factors predation by non-native animals and house pets (mostly cats).

They already want to hunt cats in some states.

Well What about horses? They fit into the ecosystem, don't they?

The growing herd is killing the natural beach environment, scientists say. The animals munch marsh grass, depriving birds of vital hiding places. They chew up beach plants, weakening sand dunes that protect the island. They trample delicate vegetation and, sometimes, birds' eggs.

With concern increasing over the horses' effect on the island, Assateague Island National Seashore is testing a contraceptive injection …

Hey, that is just up the road from me. We should have a horse hunting season. After all, they hurt the ecosystem, and horse meat is eaten all over the world.

We need to face the facts. Invasive, nonnative species are here. Some of the biggest catalysts for evolutionary change (a force that has been with us since the beginning of time) is a shift in the environment, predation, and prey. Nonnative species are going to be part of this.

Each animals true impact needs to be evaluated separately using the best science, not a knee jerk reaction to the way an animal looks, or moves. Emotion has no place in discussions like this. Policy makers cannot be swayed by this organization or that organization that want to enact legislation because some animals are cute and some aren't.

I would love to be able to hunt cats. They are everywhere. But I would need to bring in my own and he wouldn't like that. He definitely has an impact on the local ecosystems. But I can already hunt nutria. Is that because they are not pet worthy?

I don't have answers - just thoughts. Think about the double standard. Should we be hunting pythons in Florida? Horses in Virginia? Nutria in Louisiana? Red fox, donkey, sparrow, starling, wild pig?


Albert A Rasch said...


Invasive species, cats especially, are destructive and in most cases the cause of many species extinction. I would like to expand on the subject next week, and reference your post.

The Rasch Outdoor Chronicles
Big Snake Hunting in the Everglades

Anonymous said...

I think a discussion about invasive species has to include humans. We are, for sure, the most damaging, late on the evolutionary scale, and responsible for critical habitat destruction in addition to the introduction of other invasive species for our use (like the nutria). Policies that deal with invasives by getting rid of them, as the only policy, and that don't touch at all on the problem of human expansion are bandaids on the problem. I just think it's ineffective and hypocritical to put the lion's share of the responsibility for extinction (as one example) on a much smaller factor. Invasive species besides ourselves become a much bigger problem when habitat for the natives is shrinking by the mile. My two cents.

Doug said...

When writing this - I thought about bringing the human factor into it. After all - we are the most invasive, nonnative. I wasn't sure I wanted to open that can of worms.

Big picture - we are the problem. But we are a problem that is not going away any time soon.

Thanks for the comment.