On a wild python chase

Articles on animal numbers dwindling may often include hunting as one of the reasons. Over the last few centuries, several creatures – large and small, and marine and land dwelling have been pushed to the brink of extinction due to mindless hunting. But here’s a species whose killing has been actively taken up and encouraged. Why? Come, let’s find out.

Among the largest of snakes, Burmese pythons are native to Asia. However, in the 1990s, thanks to the pet trade, thousands of them found homes in the U.S. It is said that over the years, many either escaped into the wild or were released there by the pet owners themselves who found it difficult to keep the snakes. When Hurricane Andrew stuck Florida in 1992, it is believed that several snakes escaped a python-breeding facility and found refuge in Everglades, a massive wetland in southern Florida. And, today they’ve turned into an invasive species. Large as they are – growing up to 20-odd feet, they feed on large mammals such as pigs and goats. Famously, or rather infamously, way back in 2005, a python tried “to swallow an alligator and exploded in the park, leaving both the predators dead”. In the last few decades, the snakes have decimated native wildlife populations of foxes, rabbits, raccoons, opossums, deer, etc., and are irrevocably altering Everglade’s ecosystem.

Considering how vast Everglades is – about 20,000 sq km, and that there are thousands of pythons out there, the authorities are constantly looking for ways to capture the snakes or control their population. In fact, cash is rewarded to those who hunt them. Even a month-long competitive hunt has been organised in the hope that the wetlands would be rid of these non-venomous reptiles.

Though Burmese pythons continue to wreak havoc in another continent, back in their native range, the story is different. They face several threats, and their numbers are declining due to habitat loss, pet trade, and use in traditional medicine. Sadly, they are listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List.

Did you know?

A few years ago, two Indians – Masi Sadaiyan and Vadivel Gopal – belonging to Tamil Nadu and from the Irula tribe known for its exceptional snake-catching skills, were flown to Everglades. Within a month, the duo had caught 27 pythons. This is an impressive number considering a month-long python hunting competition in 2016 comprising 1,000 hunters managed a haul of only 106!

Picture Credit : Google 

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