Interior Moves to Ban Importation and Interstate Transfer of Giant Invasive Snakes
Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today announced the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will propose to list the Burmese python and eight other large constrictor snakes that threaten the Everglades and other sensitive ecosystems as “injurious wildlife” under the Lacey Act.
Secretary Salazar and three others hold down a Burmese Python in Everglades National Park during a visit in May 2009. Photo Credit: Tami Heilemann - DOI.
The Burmese python and these other alien snakes are destroying some of our nation’s most treasured – and most fragile – ecosystems. The Interior Department and states such as Florida are taking swift and common sense action to control and eliminate the populations of these snakes, but it is an uphill battle in ecosystems where they have no natural predators. If we are going to succeed, we must shut down the importation of the snakes and end the interstate commerce and transportation of them.
The proposal, which will be open to public comment before a final decision is made, would prohibit importation and interstate transportation of nine species of invasive snakes. The nine species proposed for listing are: the Burmese python, northern African python, southern African python, reticulated python, green anaconda, yellow anaconda, Beni or Bolivian anaconda, DeSchauensee’s anaconda, and boa constrictor.
Many of these large snakes are popular as pets, and are associated with a large domestic and international trade. Over the past 30 years, about a million individuals of these nine species have been imported into the United States, and current domestic production of some species likely exceeds import levels.
The Burmese python is currently distributed across many thousands of square miles in south Florida and a population of boa constrictors is established south of Miami. In addition, recent evidence strongly suggests a reproducing population of northern African pythons on the western boundaries of Miami.
The U.S. Geological Survey issued a risk assessment last October that highlighted the threat.
Of the nine large constrictors assessed, five were shown to pose a high risk to the health of the ecosystem, including the Burmese python, northern African python, southern African python, yellow anaconda, and boa constrictor. The remaining four large constrictors—the reticulated python, green anaconda, Beni or Bolivian anaconda, and DeSchauensee’s anaconda—were shown to pose a medium risk.
Burmese pythons and other large constrictor snakes are highly adaptable to new environments. And are opportunistic in expanding their geographic range. More than 1,200 of the snakes have been removed from Everglades National Park since 2000, with others having been removed from the Florida Keys, along Florida’s west coast, and farther north along the Florida peninsula. Burmese pythons threaten many imperiled species and other wildlife. Two Burmese pythons were found near Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge, and the remains of three endangered Key Largo wood rats were found in their stomachs.
Secretary Salazar made the announcement while visiting Wildlife Inspectors at the Port of New York at JFK International Airport.