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Fighting a Threat to Birds

To some people, a Burmese python is repulsive. To others, it is a good example of adaptive evolution. To still others, it is a welcome pet—until it grows too large and an owner releases it into the wild. To Florida’s avifauna, it is a deadly scourge.

More than two dozen bird species, one of them the endangered Wood Stork, have been found in digestive tracts of pythons collected in Everglades National Park. (See News and Notes in Birding, July 2011, pp. 24–27.) Wildlife experts in Florida have been gravely concerned for many years about this non-native snake’s population explosion and its increasing ecological damage. Burmese pythons are prolific breeders, they fit perfectly into South Florida’s habitats, and they—at least, as adults—have no wild enemies.

Burmese Python in captivityA new step toward fighting the threat is on the way. Effective on March 23, 2012, it will be illegal to import the Burmese python (Python molurus bivittatus) into the U.S. and to transport it between states. The prohibition also covers the Indian python (P. molurus molurus), the northern African python (P. sebae), the southern African python (P. natalensis), and the yellow anaconda (Eunectes notaeus). Penalties for violation include up to six months in prison and fines as high as $5,000 for individuals or $10,000 for organizations.

In 2006, the South Florida Water Management District petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the python as an injurious species under the federal Lacey Act, which would prohibit its importation and interstate transportation . After six bureaucratic years, the Service agreed and formally enacted the ban in February with publication of a Final Rule in the Federal Register.

Under the new federal law, most people who already own any of those species will be allowed to keep them if possession is allowed by state law. Florida allows current owners to keep them, but the state bans bans importing, selling, or swapping them and other large constrictors as personal pets.

Banning imports is one thing. Trying to eradicate the uncounted thousands of Burmese pythons that already infest Florida is another matter. Considering these long-lived snakes’ breeding productivity and the difficulty of hunting them down, we have to wonder whether eradication will ever be possible.

The new federal ban does not end the story. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering whether to list five other exotic snakes as injurious in the wild: reticulated python, boa constrictor, DeSchauensee’s anaconda, green anaconda, and Beni anaconda. These are not yet serious threats at the Burmese python’s level, and the idea is to ensure that they don’t become threats in the future.

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Paul Hess

Paul Hess

Paul Hess, the Birding "News and Notes" Department Editor, started watching birds at age 7 in Los Angeles. Now a retired newspaper editor in Pennsylvania, he formerly chaired the Pennsylvania Ornithological Records Committee, has contributed many articles to the journal Pennsylvania Birds, writes an ornithological news column for the Pennsylvania Society for Ornithology newsletter, edits the Three Rivers Birding Club newsletter in Pittsburgh, and has coauthored several National Geographic books on birds. Paul has received prominent awards for outstanding contributions to Pennsylvania ornithology and for bird conservation efforts in the state.
Paul Hess

Latest posts by Paul Hess (see all)

  • Ned Brinkley

    Paul – Great summary! I have heard DeSchauensee’s anaconda is menacing.

  • That’s excellent cause for hope! Not only will that slow their scourge of the Everglades, but possibly lessen the pressure that the pet trade is putting on them in their native home. Still a long way to go before declaring victory in either battle, unfortunately.

  • Cliff Hawley

    I agree that much needs to be done about the problem of innvasive snakes and other wildlife but this blanket policy for the entire country when only one state is currently effected is overly restricted. FWS’s claim that the problem could spread much further than Florida was based on shoddy science and this rule has been overapplied. This is currently a Florida problem and this law should apply in FL rather than punish large snake lowers across the country.

  • Burmese pythons are amongst the largest snakes in US and there are dozens birds that become victim of these Burmese pythons every year. These snakes are also a danger to other animals too as well as people and I am certainly a not of those people who want to have a Burmese python as a pet in my home. Want to know more about Burmese python and other Florida snakes? Visit

  • Cordell

    Really people think don’t be led like sheep. How is a country wide ban helping the birds of the glades further more do you really believe the native animals aren’t harming the birds, I’m pretty sure a alligator would eat a crane just as fast as a snake. Being tricked by fear isn’t the American way this is the start of a bigger domino affect first its what pets you can’t or can own then its what you can wear ultimately ending in what you can say and what god you worship. This is just politicians testing the water to see how much they can push their beliefs.The common mans a fool and they know it.

  • Does anyone really need to keep a Burmese python, or any other python, as a pet? What’s to keep someone from Illinois moving to Florida with their beloved 12′ python and then letting it go in the Glades? I believe it has probably happened, and not just once. And native fauna pays the price of our folly.

    There is a sea change occurring in legislation governing exotic pet husbandry, and it is decades overdue. Some things were not meant to be kept in homes, and pythons are just one of them. (They have this habit of swallowing infants while Mom and Dad are otherwise occupied.) A fellow in Zanesville, Ohio, finally demonstrated in the bloodiest possible way to legislators that perhaps tigers, lions, bears and monkeys should join that restricted list. And I am celebrating the legislation that’s finally being drafted in my home state, which was one of the last bastions of “Hey, I like lions, I’m gonna get me one as a PET!”

    Personally, I’d add macaws and parrots to the ranks of animals that should not be in living rooms but belong only in the wild, but I know that’s a distant dream. I have my reasons for feeling that way, having lived with one for 23 years.

    Great piece, Paul!

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