Python-hunting drones could soon be deployed in the Everglades

by | Jan 30, 2020

 

An infestation of pythons, an invasive species in Florida, has long plagued Everglades National Park. Now, the legislature is considering legislation to authorize the use of drones to help track the snakes down so that wildlife officials can move in and kill them.

The story of how the Burmese python started taking over in the Everglades reads something like a Michael Crichton novel. In 1992, Hurricane Andrew made landfall in Miami, unleashing 150mph winds and damaging a python-breeding facility in Dade County, which resulted in a large-scale escape of snakes that were held there.

Now, the proposed solution, drones, also seems like something Michael Crichton might write.

The swamp offers thousands of square miles of warm waters filled with abundant prey and limited competition for food. It’s a near-perfect adopted home for the species.

According to one 2012 study, in some areas of the Everglades, more than 90 percent of the wild animals which once roamed freely through the National Park are now eradicated, and the giant snakes are to blame.

“In areas where the snakes are well established, foxes and rabbits have disappeared. Sightings of raccoons are down by 99.3 per cent, opossums by 98.9 per cent, and white-tailed deer by 94.1 per cent.”

“It’s an ecological mess,” Michael Dorcas, a scientist with the US Geological service told USA Today. He believes the animals will eventually spread throughout the southern US. Efforts to contain their spread are so far falling victim to partisan politicking: the US Fish and Wildlife service wants to ban the importation of large snakes to pet stores, but Republican lawmakers disagree.” (Source: The Independent)

Florida law restricts drone use by law enforcement agencies to information and intelligence gathering. The new proposal doesn’t change that, but it would create an exception for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, itself a law enforcement agency, along with the Florida Forest Service, to use drones for identifying and locating invasive species like pythons.

The bill does not authorize armed drones, nor would drones be used to trap, engage or interact with the snakes directly. Instead, they would help locate snakes and allow wildlife officers to quickly remove the snakes from the population.

Representative Jason Fischer filed the bill, which, if passed, will go into effect this July.

According to the Daily Commercial, Governor Ron DeSantis met with members of state agencies to announce a python hunting competition in southern Florida coinciding with the 11th Super Bowl held in Miami.

“The governor announced the 2020 Python Bowl at Everglades National Park alongside Eric Sutton of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and members of the South Florida Water Management District’s board. The competition begins Jan. 10 and runs through Jan. 19.”

“These pythons can grow up to 20 feet and 200 pounds, and the problem is they’re not native and decimate the natural food chain and reek havoc on native species,” DeSantis said. “If we don’t take action to remove them … the rest of the Everglades is harmed.”

 

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