DAVID GREENE, host:
And now let's update you on Florida's problem with Burmese pythons. The snakes, which can grow to 12 feet or more, have established a breeding population in the Everglades and appear to be spreading out from there. The federal government is considering a ban on imports. Florida is considering a ban on sales, and the state has begun issuing python hunting permits to experienced snake handlers.
NPR's Greg Allen donned his own mosquito repellant and went along on a hunt for Burmese pythons.
GREG ALLEN: Jeff Fobb is one of seven people licensed by the state to hunt pythons. We're down in an area near an old NASA rocket facility in the southern tip of the Everglades. We're walking down an unused road now. The main thing you see are large grasshoppers jumping out of our way.
Jeff and a couple of his partners here are carrying big hooks and they're looking, scanning, looking of pythons.
Mr. JEFF FOBB (Python Hunter): This is the southern Glades, ecological area, and it is about 30,000 acres.
ALLEN: Have you been back in this spot yet?
Mr. FOBB: Not this particular area that we're going to right now. We decided to change up a little bit and try something different. Usually you can find them crossing the trail or a levee or something.
ALLEN: Recently, you've been out here and you found, what, some small ones? What have you seen on recent trips?
Mr. FOBB: Well, three that were right around 24 inches. And then the last one we caught was 70 inches.
ALLEN: And now this is a new program where you're kind of going out looking for them. But that's part of your job at the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue, you get called on 'em a lot. Have you had any calls lately to pick up some big snakes?
Mr. FOBB: Actually, the last time I worked, which was Thursday, two Burmese pythons, and we had a unit pick up a boa constrictor.
That is a black racer.
ALLEN: You're going to catch him? Look how fast he is.
Mr. FOBB: I always count any snake we see as (unintelligible) but that's one of the more common snakes to see during the daytime.
ALLEN: Black racer? That was fast. Pythons don't move that fast.
Mr. FOBB: No, no, sir. They're a little bit slower.
(Soundbite of footsteps)
ALLEN: Walking through mud here, periphyton, which is the mat that covers much of the Everglades, and there's a lot of mosquitoes in this area, very swampy area. Now we're getting up on the levee, it looks like.
Now, you like looking around water. Why is that?
Mr. FOBB: They hang around water, and also if it's a good place if you're a snake to stake out territory, because prey has to go and get water. This is a hard time of year to look because there's pretty much water everywhere. Back in the Everglades it's pretty wet. It's rainy season.
(Soundbite of footsteps)
ALLEN: The sun's gone down now and we're walking along with flashlights, scanning the trail ahead looking for anything that stands out, looks like it might be a snake. We're walking alongside the canal on top of the levee. Mosquitoes are a little bit less up here. There's a little bit of a breeze. You can hear the frogs chirping in the distance.
So what do you read into, Jeff, that we've seen none so far? Is that a good sign or a bad sign?
Mr. FOBB: Well, being this the first time we've ever taken this particular route, I can't really make a judgment.
ALLEN: We're talking about 30,000 acres and you're going to - and by walking eight miles through, you know, you cover just a very tiny fraction.
Mr. FOBB: Just a tiny, tiny fraction of this whole area.
ALLEN: You have kind of a love/hate relationship with snakes, but here you are hunting these things and yet at the same time you've got kind of a soft spot for them, I can tell.
Mr. FOBB: Yeah, I do. I really, you know, they're not here because of anything they did. They were transported here, you know, by people for pets. And for one reason or another they made their way into the Everglades. Now we're trying to find an efficient way or a more effective way to rid these natural areas of them or at least control their populations where they don't really compete with any of our other native species.
ALLEN: They came to Florida and they like Florida and they wanted to stay. Who can blame them?
Mr. FOBB: Yeah. Thousands of people do it every day.
ALLEN: Almost four hours after setting out, we were back. We saw native snakes, alligators, toads and frogs - but no pythons. But they're out there. Last month, the largest Burmese python yet was caught near Lake Okeechobee. It was 17 feet long and weighed more than 200 pounds.
Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.