by Sam Wright
On January 11th 2010, Fairchild biologists Lisa Krueger, Jennifer Possley, and myself assisted ECISMA (Everglades Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area) with surveys for the North African rock python (Python sebae). In contrast to its Burmese cousin that now number over 150,000 in the Everglades, the North African rock python is considered to be a more recent introduction, confined to a much smaller area in West Miami-Dade. Information gathered from the surveys will assist the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in assessing the status of the rock python. These pythons and other non-native snakes found their way into the Everglades after being released by irresponsible pet owners that were not able to handle the size of their growing snakes. The snakes are now breeding and their increasing population threatens our native wildlife.
Miami experienced very cold weather the week of the surveys, in fact new record lows seemed to be broken every day. This was very apparent to me and my feet while waiting instruction and orientation the morning of our survey. Although my feet were not enjoying the chilly weather I found comfort in knowing that the possible 20-foot-long snakes that we could be encountering are cold-blooded and would be slow in their movement. In their native habitat, they are known to take down large prey such as gazelles, warthogs and crocodiles! I did not want to be added to the menu.
After a 20 minute briefing covering the background of the snake and how to handle one if encountered, we set out to our designated survey areas. Walking through thick vegetation never really bothered me but this time my heart was beating a little faster than usual with the anticipation of possibly running into a giant snake! After hours of hiking, we turned up nothing but got a phone call that one of the other groups found a 12 footer! The large python was brought back to the staging area for all to see during lunch hour. The snake was so large that its length spread over 1 ½ parking spots! Although appearing dead, the snake was very much alive but definitely showed the effects of the cold weather. It is amazing to see a snake of that size up close up. It’s too bad we had to leave after lunch because a 14 footer was found right after we left. It was definitely exciting to see these snakes in person but knowing that they are breeding and multiplying in the wild is a major concern.