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Got an idea on how to control pythons in the Everglades? Florida wants to know

The Burmese pythons infesting the Everglades have survived everything thrown at them, keeping their grip on their adopted home and chowing down on raccoons, rabbits, deer, birds and alligators.

Now wildlife officials are holding a series of meetings to ask the public for help.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Everglades National Park and other organizations engaged in the anti-python campaign will seek help in finding new ideas and assessing the effectiveness of the methods tried over the years.

They’ve set up traps. They sent python-sniffing beagles after them. They attached radio-tracking devices to pythons in hopes the snakes would lead them to more pythons. They paid hunters $8.10 an hour to catch them, with a $50 bonus for any python longer than four feet (and $25 more for each additional foot).

They hired snake hunters from the Irula tribe in the pythons’ native land. They held contests, awarding prizes for the biggest snake caught and the most snakes caught. They allowed hunters a free hand in killing them year-round, with free T-shirts to anyone who captured or killed one.

Captain Jeff Fobb of the Metro-Dade Fire Rescue venom response team answers reporters’ questions about Burmese Pythons during the kick off for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission’s 2013 Python Challenge – (Mark Randall/Sun-Sentinel)

“We have all these different efforts going on across South Florida,” said Kristin Sommers, exotic species coordinator for the state wildlife commission. “We’re starting to wrap our minds around how we can develop a unified plan.”

More than 5,000 pythons have been seen or removed in Florida. While there’s no official estimate of the total out there, state officials say this number represents a small fraction of the state’s pythons, which eat a wide variety of animals, reproduce quickly and escape detection in the tangled vegetation of the Everglades.

The snakes arrived via the exotic pet trade. The main theories are that people dumped their pet pythons in the Everglades when they got too big or the pythons are the descendants of snakes that escaped a breeding facility that was destroyed by Hurricane Andrew.

Fred Merrell, 48, hunts for pythons in the Big Cypress National Preserve during the Python Challenge – (Jim Rassol/Sun-Sentinel)

The pythons devastated the Everglades’ mammals, including raccoons, opossums, marsh rabbits and full-grown deer.

A University of Florida study released last month found mosquitoes were biting much fewer deer, raccoons and opossums, “reflecting precipitous declines in relative abundance of these larger mammals, attributed to python predation.” Instead, the mosquitoes were surviving on the blood of cotton rats, which had only made up 15 percent of their diet before pythons ate the larger mammals.

The meetings will be held from 5:30-7:30 p.m. One will take place Wednesday at UF’s Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center, 3205 College Ave., Davie. Other meetings will be held in Tampa, Fort Myers, West Palm Beach and Clewiston. The West Palm Beach meeting will be Nov. 15 at the Okeeheelee Nature Center, 7715 Forest Hill Blvd.

The meetings will be informal, with a brief opening statement and then various stations around the room for people to take a look at approaches to controlling pythons and submit their ideas.

This article was republished from the Sun Sentinel.

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