US senator asks Interior secretary to approve hunts to kill pythons in Fla. Everglades

Hunts sought to kill pythons in Fla. Everglades

MIAMI — U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson called Tuesday for organized hunts of thousands of pythons believed to be living in the Everglades to kill the snakes and prevent potential attacks.

Nelson requested permission in a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who got a close-up look at a 15-foot python found in the swampland during a May visit hosted by the senator. The request also comes weeks after a 2-year-old central Florida girl was strangled by an unlicensed pet python that escaped from a terrarium in her home, drawing further scrutiny to the issue.

“They are threatening endangered wildlife there,” the Democratic lawmaker wrote to his former Senate colleague, “and, Lord forbid, a visitor in the Everglades ever encounters one.”

Also Tuesday, another lawmaker, U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla., introduced legislation to allow python hunts in the Everglades.

Nelson has estimated 100,000 pythons are living in the Everglades, an invasive species population believed to be the result at least in part of pets being released into the wild when they grow too big. “They now have become such a problem in the park,” said Dan McLaughlin, Nelson’s spokesman, “you could spend the next 10 years setting traps.”

The senator asked Salazar to approve supervised hunts of the snakes by U.S. Park Service staff, other authorities and volunteers to kill the pythons en masse. The invasive species have been multiplying in the Everglades for years.

Kendra Barkoff, a spokeswoman for Salazar, said the secretary agreed pythons “pose a significant threat to the Florida Everglades and must be dealt with immediately” but did not comment specifically on the idea of authorizing hunts.

Pythons, though difficult to find in summer because they’re hiding, frequently emerge on roadsides and in other open areas during winter to sun. Nelson didn’t elaborate on how a hunt for the snakes would be conducted.

Nelson recently introduced a bill to ban imports of the snakes, after years of trying to persuade federal wildlife officials to restrict their entry into the country. At a hearing on the bill earlier this month, Nelson displayed a massive skin of a python on a table.

During Salazar’s visit to the Everglades in May, he was shown a roughly 90-pound Burmese python that was caught in the park. “Look at the size of him!” Nelson said as the snake was taken from a container. It took three people to restrain the creature.

Associated Press writer Ben Evans contributed to this report from Washington.


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