Hunting pythons in the Everglades: Turns out they’re full of mercury
Shooting giant snakes in the Florida Everglades may sound like an exciting and exotic opportunity for many hunters. In fact, the state’s recent Python Challenge attracted over 1,500 participants, though it only resulted in the killing or capture of 68 of the massive constrictors.
68 isn’t really a dent in the number of Burmese pythons purported to be thriving in the wilds of Florida. No one really knows how many of the invasive snake species actually live in the Everglades, but estimates range from the “tens of thousands” to 150,000. The snakes start out as pets for the childish adult crowd and are then released when they get too big and/or expensive to take care of. Just so happens that a Florida swamp is a great places to be a python.
Not so great if you’re a native Florida species, however. Imagine being a deer, possum, raccoon or bobcat and all of a sudden a new, giant enemy – which can slither silently through the trees or beneath undergrowth – shows up and starts eating your extended family. Pythons have even been known to eat alligators, a natural apex predator of the southern US marshlands. The fast-breeding snakes are also a threat to endangered species like the Florida panther because they eat their food sources. A thick snake that can reach lengths of 26 feet (8 meters) tends to eat a lot.
OK, so the pythons are indeed a threat to the local eco-system, but not as much as people, what with them turning complex eco-systems into cookie-cutter subdivisions with swimming pools and faux Greek columns. And let’s not beat around the Jeb Bush – it’s state and federal laws that allow the mass importation of exotic animals through the cruel international pet trade.
But if there are as many as 150,000 pythons (big and small) in the Everglades and they spend most of their time lying around in trees or on the ground, why were only 68 bagged by 1,500 hunters in a four week (January 12 – February 10) period?
One thing is pythons are pretty well camouflaged. Another is that there may not be as many as some think. Maybe most of the challengers don’t know how to hunt pythons either. The winner did. He caught or killed 6 pythons, earning himself $1,500 in the process. Two others were tied at second place with 5, receiving $750 each. There was also a category for professional python hunting permit holders, with the winner bagging 18 specimens. So that’s half the total caught by only 3 people, meaning pretty much everyone left empty handed.
Read the official Python Challenge press release here.
But what are the real results of this game? The participants can’t eat the pythons they catch as they contain too much mercury for safe consumption, which opens up an entirely different issue: why are Florida’s pythons full of poisonous mercury? This PDF of an academic presentation shows the levels of mercury and methylmercury found in Everglades pythons, but it doesn’t say why, only including that there is a mine in the park. As far as I can discover, only rock mining goes on in the Everglades, but limestone mining does result in mercury contamination, as has been observed in Everglades fish.
Conclusion: In terms of protecting indigenous wildlife, the Python Challenge is useless and a bit cruel to boot, and the Everglades ecosystem is probably in danger due to mercury contamination (not that anybody is talking about that).