MICHELE NORRIS, host:
South Florida has a problem with invasive animals: iguanas, lionfish, Gambian pouch rats, the list is long. At the top of that list is the Burmese python, and Congress is now considering banning their importation and their sale.
From Miami, NPR's Greg Allen reports for python duty.
GREG ALLEN: It's a beautiful spring day on Big Pine Key, and what better way to spend it than wrangling Burmese pythons.
Unidentified Man #1: And remember as you're approaching it, they can turn around real quick and strike at some distance. So it's always a good idea to approach from behind the animal.
ALLEN: Ron Rozar of the U.S. Geological Survey and Jeff Fobb of Miami-Dade Fire Rescue are teaching state and federal wildlife officials a skill that's increasingly in demand in South Florida: catching pythons and other large, exotic snakes.
Jill Izsak, with Florida's Fish and Wildlife Commission, dons heavy gloves and warily approaches the snake, an eight-foot-long Burmese python.
Ms. JILL IZSAK (Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission): And so you just grab it?
Unidentified Man #1: Grab him. Yeah. You got big old gloves on. Tell me if the teeth go through.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. IZSAK: This is not fun. He's facing me.
Unidentified Man #2: (Unintelligible). There you go.
ALLEN: Izsak grabs the snake by the head and midsection and lifts him up triumphantly.
Burmese pythons like this one have become commonplace in South Florida in recent years. They were first seen in Everglades National Park in the 1990s, and since then they've grown as a threat to native wildlife.
Rangers and tourists in Everglades National Park have watched epic struggles between pythons and alligators in the park. Art Roybal of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says a few years after they were first sighted, Burmese pythons have become firmly established there.
Mr. ART ROYBAL (United States Fish and Wildlife Service): The first breeding population, an actual nest of eggs with a female wrapped around those eggs, was found in 2006. It was a matter of males finding females and vice versa, and now they're breeding out in Everglades National Park.
ALLEN: Last year, biologists removed 300 Burmese pythons from the park. The concern now is that pythons born in the wild are spreading from the park to other areas, such as the Florida Keys.
Alison Higgins of the Nature Conservancy says the first Burmese python was found on Key Largo, the island closest to the mainland, in 2007.
Ms. ALISON HIGGINS (Nature Conservancy): You know, the first one showed up. Some people thought it was a pet. Somebody thought it was the Burmese. It wasn't until six more showed up within two months of each other we realized oh yeah, this probably isn't pets.
ALLEN: Higgins and the Nature Conservancy have taken the lead in an effort to protect the Keys and the endangered species that live there from invading pythons. It's called the Python Patrol. Higgins has enlisted mail carriers, utility company employees and now the public, asking them to call a special hotline when they spot a large snake.
To stop the threat of Burmese pythons and other exotic species, two bills are currently being considered in Congress. One would require the government to evaluate all species proposed for importation and put the burden on the importer to show they aren't harmful. Another singles out pythons and puts an immediate halt to their import and interstate trade.
Andrew Wyatt is the president of the U.S. Association of Reptile Keepers, which opposes both proposed laws.
Mr. ANDREW WYATT (President, United States Association of Reptile Keepers): The whole thing about that somehow that these are escaped or released pets is just ridiculous.
ALLEN: Wyatt says it's the wild python population, now firmly established in the Everglades, that's the problem. The proposed legislation does nothing about that population, instead targeting what he says is a billion dollar a year reptile and amphibian industry.
Wildlife groups and government agencies hope an active Python Patrol will contain the population in the Everglades and prevent the snakes from spreading south through the Keys and north through Florida.
Meanwhile, they're beginning to focus on another large invasive reptile that's been found breeding in Florida. It's the Nile monitor, a lizard that's a fast runner, a voracious predator, and one that can grow up to seven feet in length. Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.
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