A just-released study suggests that Burmese Pythons have devastated Florida Everglades animal populations (e.g., raccoon and opossum sightings are down by 99%).
The pythons were originally released in the Everglades by people who had kept them as pets and their population has grown rapidly. It’s possible that much of the snake population was killed off by last year’s cold snap. However, as with cancer cells, a fast-growing population regenerates quickly unless almost all of its members are exterminated.
The cited article points out that it’s not certain the snakes are responsible for radical declines in small-animal populations but that no one has a better explanation.
The article mentions the possibility of preventing the snakes from expanding their territory but doesn’t discuss how close the snake population is to equilibrium in its current habitat. (Since a large number of prey animals needs to be around to support each predator, and Everglades prey populations appear to have been radically reduced, how close is the snake population to equilibrium?) Also, I wonder if the snakes will kill off the panther population by depleting its food supply.
Naturally, the federal govt has responded to the snake problem by banning importation and interstate trade of several kinds of snakes. This will have no effect. The snake is out of the barn, so to speak.
“Pythons are wreaking havoc on one of America’s most beautiful, treasured and naturally bountiful ecosystems,” said Marcia McNutt, director of the U.S. Geological Survey, whose scientists contributed to the study. “Right now, the only hope to halt further python invasion into new areas is swift, decisive and deliberate human action.”
I wonder if it’s possible to constrain the snakes to their current habitat. From the tone of the article, and frequent media stories about giant snakes captured in the wild, it looks like the Park Service is slowly trying to figure out what to do. Maybe they should try to eradicate the snakes altogether. OTOH, I wonder how much farther North the snakes can migrate before they get killed off by winter freezes.
I don’t know if there’s a moral or political point to be made here. It’s a difficult problem.