This article was originally published in the New York Times on March 5, 2010
Andrew Wyatt , a python breeder, is president of the US Herp Alliance and the past president of USARK.
The position of Interior Secretary Salazar on the proposed rule change adding nine constrictors to the injurious wildlife list will have a rough time in the light of real scientific or legal scrutiny.
There are so many fairy tales promoted as fact that it is difficult to decide where to start. The most repeated misstatement is that the population of pythons in the Everglades is the result of irresponsible owners releasing their charges once they have grown too large or difficult to be maintained.
That is false. There is no doubt that individuals have released pythons, but evidence suggests that they are not the ones responsible for the feral population in the Everglades.
There was a genetics study done by the National Park service and Florida International University indicating that the pythons in the Everglades are almost genetically identical. This points away from a slow introduction over time of many varied specimens and indicates a more isolated and catastrophic event such as Hurricane Andrew destroying a single breeding facility or importer of all like animals.
According to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, as many as half or more of the pythons in the wild died during Florida’s recent cold snap.
It is confirmed that all of the pythons in the outdoor facility run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Gainesville died. The word is that all of the pythons with radio markers being studied by the National Park Service in the Everglades died as well.
It is also said that all of the pythons in the outdoor experiment at the Savannah River Ecological Lab in Aiken, S.C., also died. Neither the park service nor the Savannah River Ecological Lab will confirm or deny the death of their study groups. This all demonstrates that this is a state problem in Florida and not a national problem worthy of listing on the Lacey Act. The U.S. Association of Reptile Keepers’ scientists reiterate that Burmese pythons can not survive in the wild north of Lake Okeechobee for more than a short time.
The “science” being forwarded by the Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Geological Survey has serious problems as demonstrated by the recent cold in Florida. It has been criticized as “not scientific” and “not suitable for use as the basis for legislative or regulatory policy” by a group of independent scientists that hail from institutions like the University of Florida and the National Geographic Society.
Under the light of day the public will see that the pythons in the Everglades are currently being protected by the National Park Service as a study group. It is illegal for anyone to remove or kill pythons in the national park, the epicenter of the population. Only on state lands can they be extirpated. The federal government position is that no one but park service staff can eliminate pythons in the Everglades National Park, but they don’t have the staff to address the issue.
If enacted, the rule change to the federal Lacey Act would create a situation where millions of Americans would be in possession of “injurious wildlife” and potentially subject to prosecution. There are approximately two million boas and pythons that would be subject to a rule change currently in captivity in 48 states.
A much larger problem, feral cats, a serious problem in Florida and all the other states, is not being considered for listing because too many people already own them.
Pythons are only a problem in south Florida, yet are being considered for a federal controls, even though millions are in captivity.