FWC Creates Special Season For Capture And Removal Of Reptiles Of Concern

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FWC Press Release:

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is offering a special chance for hunters to capture and remove reptiles of concern from state-managed lands around the Everglades. From March 8 to April 17, those with a hunting license and a $26 management area permit may take reptiles of concern (Indian python, reticulated python, northern and southern African rock python, amethystine or scrub python, green anaconda and Nile monitor lizard) on Everglades and Francis S. Taylor, Holey Land and Rotenberger wildlife management areas (WMAs).

The specially created season, established by executive order, follows the close of small game season on the three WMAs, and continues during a period when the nonnative snakes are likely to be encountered. During cooler months, cold-blooded reptiles sun themselves on levees, canal banks and roadways to warm up. This makes them easier to spot, capture and remove.

“We are once again engaging our stakeholders, in this case, the hunting community, to help us reduce the number of reptiles of concern in the Everglades,” said FWC Chairman Rodney Barreto. “Our hunters are on the front lines, and we hope, by tapping into their knowledge of the Everglades, we can make significant progress in this effort.”

On Monday, Feb. 22, a large group of hunters will receive training on how to identify, stalk, capture and remove reptiles of concern. The FWC and experts from the reptile industry will provide the training, which includes lessons in biology and behavior. A local tanner also will be on hand to explain the value of harvested hides.

“In order to increase the numbers of reptiles of concern taken, we believe it is important to give the hunting community the tools for success, and that means the knowledge they need to apply their skills,” Barreto said.

Representatives from the National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Big Cypress National Preserve, South Florida Water Management District and Army Corps of Engineers are scheduled to attend the event.

Reptiles of concern may be taken by all legal methods (including shotguns, rimfire rifles and pistols) used in the taking of game animals; however, the use of centerfire rifles is prohibited. Reptiles of concern may not be taken out of the wildlife management areas alive and must be reported to the FWC within 36 hours by calling, toll-free, 866-392-4286, or by visiting MyFWC.com/ROC.

Contacts:

Tony Young (Hunting and Game Management), 850-488-7867;
Patricia Behnke (General – reptiles of concern), 850-251-2130

FAQs

Taking reptiles of concern on wildlife management areas

-Why is the FWC allowing the taking of reptiles of concern (including Burmese pythons) on certain wildlife management areas (WMAs) in South Florida?

The nonnative Burmese python has spread throughout the southern Everglades. Since it has few natural predators in Florida, its numbers have grown into the thousands in South Florida, and it has preyed on native wildlife, including the federally endangered Key Largo woodrat. The FWC manages three public lands on the python’s northernmost range and believes that offering licensed hunters the opportunity to euthanize Burmese pythons and other reptiles of concern will help eradicate these invasive, nonnative species from Florida and prevent their northern movement.

-From which WMAs are hunters allowed to take reptiles of concern?

There are three areas: Everglades and Francis S. Taylor, Holey Land and Rotenberger WMAs.

-Who is eligible to harvest reptiles of concern from these three WMAs?

Any person with a valid hunting license and a $26 management area permit may harvest reptiles of concern from any of the three above-listed WMAs.

-When can hunters harvest reptiles of concern?

Properly licensed and permitted hunters can harvest reptiles of concern from March 8 through April 17 on Everglades and Francis S. Taylor, Holey Land and Rotenberger WMAs between one-half hour before sunrise and one-half hour after sunset.

Besides Burmese pythons, what other reptiles of concern can be harvested on these areas?

-All reptiles of concern may be harvested, including the Indian python, reticulated python, northern and southern African rock python, amethystine or scrub python, green anaconda and Nile monitor lizard.

-What are the methods of take for harvesting reptiles of concern on these WMAs during this period?

All legal methods for taking game animals (including shotguns, rimfire rifles and pistols) may be used, except centerfire rifles. Reptiles of concern also may be captured with nets and snares but must be euthanized on site.

Any reptile of concern harvested may not be taken out of the areas alive and must be reported to the FWC within 36 hours by calling, toll-free, 866-392-4286, or by completing the online form via MyFWC.com/ROC.

-How will I recognize a Burmese python?

Most Burmese pythons will be longer than any native snake. The longest native snake, the indigo snake, reaches 8 feet but is midnight blue or black and has no markings. Burmese pythons have dark blotches along their back and sides. Some native water snakes have similar markings but have a more streamlined head, rather than the pyramid-shaped and blunt snout of a python. Cottonmouths (water moccasins) and rattlesnakes also have bigger heads but are shorter than adult pythons.

For more information on snake identification, pick up a handout at a check station or visit MyFWC.com/ROC.

-Why is the FWC asking hunters to help?

Hunters have played a key role with conservation in this state. The FWC recognizes that there are many local hunters who really “know” the swamps and woods in which they hunt and have a vested interest in helping rid South Florida of these invasive, nonnative reptiles.

-What about taking reptiles of concern on private lands or public lands other than WMAs?

Any nonnative species, including reptiles of concern, can be taken on private land throughout the year with landowner permission, and by legal methods for the local area. (Many municipalities do not allow discharge of firearms; the FWC does not allow poison or explosives.) A VRC (Venomous Reptiles and/or ROC) license would be required if the reptile of concern was captured alive on private property and in the possession of the trapper.

-Do I have to capture a reptile of concern if I see one?

No, you do not. When taking any wild creature, sometimes a risk is involved, and you should not try anything that you do not feel safe or comfortable doing. However, the FWC still would like you to report any reptile of concern sightings by calling, toll-free, 866-392-4286, or by completing the online form via MyFWC.com/ROC.

-Can I sell the hide or meat from a python? Is the skin or meat worth anything? Is it even safe to eat?

You may sell the hide or skin to leather tanneries, some of which buy alligator hides. Python skin often is used in making cowboy boots, and the boots have been popular and fashionable for years.

You also may sell the meat to a certified meat processor, but according to the National Park Service, testing on two dozen Burmese pythons captured in the Everglades revealed extraordinarily high levels of mercury in the meat – levels well above what is considered safe to eat.

-How did Burmese pythons become established in South Florida?

It is believed that during Hurricane Andrew in 1992, some Burmese pythons escaped from cages. Even though it is illegal to do so, it is possible some pet owners may have released their Burmese pythons into the wild when the animals had grown too large for their owners to care for them.

-Where can I find more information about Burmese pythons and other reptiles of concern?

Visit MyFWC.com/ROC for more information.

Fast Facts – Burmese pythons in the wild in Florida

- Approximately 112,000 of these Asian snakes have been imported into the United States since 1990.

- Everglades National Park has a large population of Burmese pythons. The National Park Service reported the removal of 311 Burmese pythons from the Everglades in 2008.

- Other pythons have been captured in Big Cypress National Preserve and Collier Seminole State Park, north of the Everglades; areas around Miami to the northeast; Key Largo to the southeast and other lands, both public and private, throughout the region.

- A recent report from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) shows that the Burmese python could survive throughout Florida. The report states that other factors, such as food and shelter, need consideration, but the “Burmese pythons and other giant constrictor snakes have shown themselves to be highly adaptable to new environments.”

- A nonvenomous constrictor, the Burmese python preys on native Florida mammals, birds and reptiles, as well as on nonnative species, including black rats.

- According to the National Park Service, the appetite of the Burmese python poses a serious threat to some of Florida’s already endangered species. Burmese pythons have eaten Key Largo woodrats, a federally endangered species.

- The Burmese python can reach a length of 26 feet and a weight of more than 200 pounds. The largest Burmese python captured in the Everglades was 16 feet and 150 pounds. Its native habitat ranges from India to lower China, throughout the Malay Peninsula and on some islands in the East Indies. It usually lives near water.

- Although semi-aquatic, this snake is a good climber.

- Pythons lay eggs, unlike boa constrictors. A female Burmese python may lay 50-100 eggs and will wrap its body around the clutch to keep it warm and to defend the eggs against predators. The female python can raise its temperature by rhythmically twitching muscles, which generates heat and helps incubate the eggs. This incubation process may last two to three months. Once the eggs are hatched, young pythons are on their own to survive.

- The USGS and Everglades National Park are investigating the behavior and biology of the Burmese python to get a better understanding of the snake’s requirements for survival. Their findings also will assess the risk of invasion into other areas of the United States.

Fast Facts – Burmese pythons as pets in Florida

- As a reptile of concern, Burmese pythons must be licensed by the FWC’s Captive Wildlife Section to be kept as a pet. The license costs $100 per year and mandates specific caging requirements. Burmese pythons more than 2 inches in diameter must be implanted with a microchip that identifies the animal. This rule applies to all reptiles of concern. It is unlawful to allow one to escape or to release one into the wild.

- The Burmese python is commonly kept as a pet because it is more docile than other large, nonnative constrictors.

- There is a low risk of attack on humans. Documented human attacks by pythons in the United States involve the snake’s owner or the owner’s immediate family.



 
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