MIAMI – Federal wildlife officials alarmed by an infestation of Burmese pythons in the Florida Everglades have tried radio tracking collars, a massive public hunt and even snake-sniffing dogs to control the Everglades. Now there's talk of snaring the elusive pythons in specially designed traps.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture received a patent in August for a trap that resembles a long, thin cage with a net at one end for the live capture of large, heavy snakes.
Researchers say Burmese pythons regard the Everglades as an all-you-can-eat buffet, where native mammals are easy prey and the snakes have no natural predators. The population of Burmese pythons, which are native to India and other parts of Asia, likely developed from pets released into the wild, either intentionally or in the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew in 1992.
Wildlife officials are racing to control the python population before it undermines ongoing efforts to restore natural water flow through the Everglades. According to a study released last year, mammal sightings in the Everglades are down sharply in areas where pythons are known to live.
The Gainesville field station for the National Wildlife Research Center, which falls under the USDA, is preparing to test the trap in a natural enclosure that contains five pythons.
Over the coming months, the researchers will try baiting the traps with the scent of small mammals such as rats, and they will try camouflaging them as pipes or other small, covered spaces where pythons like to hide, said John Humphrey, a biologist at the research center. Future tests may use python pheromones as bait.