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Florida's Burmese pythons: Will they make a meal out of (gulp) us?

February 1, 2012 |  7:35 am

Python versus alligator
Darn those illegal immigrants. Enough is enough.  They have to go.

They're wiping out Florida's bunnies!

Of course you know what I'm talking about: Burmese pythons.

As The Times reported this week:

In a study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, researchers report that the giant snakes have put a serious dent in the Everglades’ usual ecosystem, devouring the wide array of animals that live there….

The latest report is based on nocturnal field surveys. Before 2000, mammals were frequently encountered, but in the newer surveys, covering 2003 to 2011, the number of observed mammals  dropped significantly. There was a 99.3% decrease in raccoon observations; opossum observations were down 98.9%; and bobcat observations were off by 87.5%. Scientists said they failed to detect rabbits at all.

That's right.  No more Bugs, no more Thumper.


And that's not all. Florida's problem may be snakes the size of fire hoses, but California is not immune from intrepid interlopers.Albatross released

Take this story Tuesday:

A man was driving down a Los Angeles street Friday when onlookers flagged him down, alerting him to an enormous bird that had hitched a ride in the back of his pickup truck.

With its white body, dark wings and curved yellow beak, it might have been mistaken for an oversized seagull.

But the bird, it turns out, was thousands of miles from home. It was an Laysan Albatross, a seabird with a 7-foot wingspan that normally nests on remote islands and atolls in the North Pacific Ocean.

That's right. Apparently Hawaii and environs had lost their allure for Jonathan Livingston uh, Albatross. So, like thousands of other undocumented types, it apparently stowed away on a ship and headed for the Golden State.

But, just like the Obama administration's tough line on deportations, officials took a tough-love approach.

International Bird Rescue took custody of the bird after the driver handed it over to lifeguards at Cabrillo Beach. The group held the albatross for four days at its wildlife rescue center in San Pedro and gave it a clean bill of health.

On Tuesday they released the bird from a boat off San Pedro to let it set off on a flight back home to Hawaii or beyond.

Aloha, albatross!

Of course, the bird came here, in its own odd way, naturally.  The Burmese pythons that are using the Everglades as an all-you-can-eat buffet are apparently descended from pets that were either lost or released into the wild.

And personally, I don't think officials are taking the problem seriously enough. 

For example, here's what the scientists are saying:

"Whether mammal populations will remain suppressed or will rebound remains to be seen. The magnitude of these declines underscores the apparent incredible density of pythons in [Everglades National Park] and justifies intensive investigation into how the addition of novel apex predators affects overall ecosystem processes."

Run that by me again: "intensive investigation into how the addition of novel apex predators affects overall ecosystem processes"?

How about: "How are we going to stop these snakes from eating people?"

Because isn't that bound to happen?  A snake that's willing to make a meal out of an alligator probably wouldn't be shy about latching onto Junior, now would it?

Lots of folks in the West are freaked out these days about wolves.  Shouldn't we be equally concerned about these pythons, which aren't even native to the United States?

A few wayward seabirds turning up on the West Coast, no big deal. A snake that will eat just about anything? 

To borrow from the astronauts:  "Florida, we have a problem."


Feasting on junk info

Are college students learning?

Food stamps and the right to make unhealthy decisions

--Paul Whitefield

Photos, from top: A Burmese python is wrapped around an American alligator in Everglades National Park, Fla. (Credit:  Lori Oberhofer / National Park Service); a Laysan albatross is released back to the wild. (Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times)

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