The position of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in regards to the proposed rule change adding nine constrictors included in the recent USGS report to the injurious wildlife list of the Lacey Act will have a rough time in the light of real scientific or legal scrutiny. There are so many fairy tales that have been promoted as fact that it is difficult to decide where to start.
The most repeated misstatement is that the population of pythons in the Everglades is the result of irresponsible owners releasing their charges once they have grown too large or difficult to be maintained. That is false. Individuals have released pythons, but evidence suggests that they are not the ones responsible for the feral population in the Everglades. There was a genetics study done by the National Park Service and Florida International University that indicates the pythons in the Everglades are almost identical genetically. This points away from a slow introduction over time of many varied specimens and indicates a more isolated and catastrophic event such as Hurricane Andrew destroying a single facility containing all like animals.
According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, approximately half of the wild pythons died during Florida’s recent cold snap. It is confirmed that all of the pythons in the outdoor facility run by the USDA in Gainesville, Fla., died. Early word is that all of the pythons with radio markers being studied by the NPS in the Everglades died as well. It has also been said that all of the pythons in the outdoor experiment at the Savannah River Ecological Lab in Aiken, S.C., also died. Neither the NPS nor the SREL will confirm or deny the death of their study groups. This demonstrates a state problem in Florida and not a National problem worthy of listing on the Lacey Act. USARK’s scientists reiterate that Burmese pythons can not survive in the wild north of Lake Okeechobee for more than a short period of time.
The “science” being forwarded by the USFWS and the USGS has serious problems as demonstrated by this recent cold in Fla. It has been criticized as “not scientific” and “not suitable for use as the basis for legislative or regulatory policy” by a group of independent scientists that hail from such institutions as the UFL, ASU and the National Geographic Society.
The public should know that the pythons in the Everglades are currently being protected by the NPS as a study group. It is illegal for anyone to remove or kill pythons in Everglades National Park – the epicenter of the population. Only on state lands can they be extirpated. The federal government position is that no one but NPS staff can eliminate pythons in the Everglades National Park, but they don’t have the proper staff to completely address the issue. They need to keep the pythons in the Everglades National Park as a study group to generate grant money.
If enacted, a rule change to the Lacey Act would create a situation where millions of Americans would be in possession of Injurious Wildlife and potentially subject to prosecution under the Lacey Act. There are approximately two million boas and pythons currently in captivity in 48 states that would be subject to rule change. Feral cats are a much larger and serious problem in Fla., and all other states, are not being considered for listing because too many people already own them. Pythons are only a problem in south Fla., yet are being considered for a federal listing, even though millions are in captivity.
Andrew Wyatt is the President of the United States Association of Reptile Keepers (USARK) and has been an avid herp enthusiast for more than 35 years. He has traveled the world and has had his animals featured in a number of television productions. For more information about USARK, click here .