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Now browsing: Hometown News > Columnist Archives > Family - Family Matters

Big snake alert for lawmakers
Rating: 2.71 / 5 (204 votes)  
Posted: 2006 Apr 21 - 03:10

Step out the front door. Look right and then left. Am I watching for traffic in order to cross the street? Actually, I'm on big snake alert.

And, I am not alone.

According to Skip Snow, a biologist with Florida Everglades National Park, last year alone, park officials caught 95 pythons on the loose in the national park. That's not even counting the Burmese pythons that made news last year in south Florida neighborhoods, where an additional 20 pythons a year are captured in Miami-Dade County alone.

Remember the python that ate a turkey or the one that ate the neighbor's cat.

Those snakes survived, unlike the 13-foot python that tried to eat an alligator and exploded. When the photos hit newspaper wire services everywhere, you may have thought, "Well, good thing I don't live near the Everglades."

Then, you may have missed the news about the big snake on the loose in Vero last year. Its capture was featured in newspapers across the country, as wire services looking for some unusual, and entertainment news found it in Vero, land of sun, sand and now, snakes.

The 16-foot Burmese python was spotted trying to cross a main road at night, having either escaped from its owner, or let loose to get rid of it. Indian River County officials captured the snake and delivered it to Animal Control Officer Bruce Dangerfield's home, where law enforcement and the media combined to get the word out about the found giant.

Mr. Dangerfield has picked up dozens of loose Burmese pythons, but he said this was the largest, by far, he has seen on the streets. Because of its sheer size, this snake could have easily snared cats, small dogs and, okay, even little children.

Five different people called in to claim the python, which leaves officials shaking their heads. Are there that many liars in Vero, or are there four other pythons out there on the loose?

Both Dangerfield and the local humane society cautioned would-be snake owners to rethink the Burmese python as a pet. Mr. Snow says the pythons are often objects of impulse buying for people who think owning a big snake would be cool, but change their mind when the baby outgrows its owner.

Let loose, they prey on fragile native species, like birds and bobcats, and they take homes away from other log and hole dwellers.

It's a big problem and because the big snake has no predators, it's growing bigger.

In fact, Ralph Poppell, a Republican state legislator from Titusville, thinks the problem has gotten so out of hand, that he has proposed adding Burmese pythons to Florida's list of regulated reptiles. His bill, House Bill 1459, could force python buyers to complete state training, purchase a license and go to jail for letting their snakes loose.

According to snake experts, a Burmese python purchased for less than $100 at a local pet store as a 20-inch baby, will quickly grow into a giant snake, up to 20 feet, that can literally eat you out of house and home. The snakes are let loose when the big guys, which can live up to 25 years, become too much to handle. And here's another statistic that will chill you: should a loose python meet up with another python of the opposite sex, momma python can produce from 40 to 50 babies in the wild.

Rep. Poppell doesn't understand people's fascination with the pythons.

"How can you want something as a pet, that looks at you when it's hungry?" he said. "I don't want something to look at me as food."

The size of a proper cage for a large Burmese is about the size of a small bathroom, say experts. Also, even though some pet stores call these reptiles gentle giants, they do bit, and require constant care and handling, other than at feeding.

While the snakes aren't known to hunt people, said Mr. Snow, they have been known to kill people. In fact, in two different incidents, teenage boys were killed by their pet Burmese pythons that were loose inside their homes. Several infant deaths have been reported, although none recently or in south Florida.

But I'm on the lookout while driving around Vero, for those other pythons reported lost last year. And, when the leaves rustle in the yard, be aware.

Sue-Ellen Sanders writes about family issues every week in the Hometown News. Contact her at tothemoon@bellsouth.net.

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