This Snake Is Eating the Everglades | Retro Report on PBS

This Snake Is Eating the Everglades | Retro Report on PBS


-The remote wetlands
of the Florida Everglades are home to rare
and beautiful wildlife, but today, this wildlife
is being devoured by an invader that has already eliminated
90% of some species. It’s a giant snake not native
to the region or even the U.S., and that’s gotten a lot
of people’s attention. So how did pythons from Asia become such a problem
in this country? -For that, we have to blame
a different animal — humans, who, over the past few decades, have been
increasingly responsible for the growing threat
from invasive species. ♪♪ -This is a 12-foot-long
Burmese python caught by a Port St. Lucie
police sergeant in the middle of a neighborhood. -Encounters with wayward snakes, once pets in someone’s home,
are a regular feature on the news
in reptile-loving Florida today. -Oh, my God. That’s on our street? -Yes. Yes, it was. -More than 2 million
constrictor snakes, pythons, boas, and anacondas have been imported into the U.S. Non-venomous but still fearsome,
they kill their prey by strangling it,
then eating it whole. Despite all that,
the Burmese python, bred in a rainbow of colors, caught on with rock stars
and regular folks. -It used to kind of be
the biker, long-haired, tattooed,
you know, rebellious guy. Now it can be a lawyer,
a doctor. Really, the person next door
could be keeping reptiles. -And often,
the person next door doesn’t understand
what they’ve gotten into. -They buy them, you know,
12, 14 inches long, but then three or four years
later they realize, you know, it’s a 7, 8-foot snake, and they
can’t take care of it anymore. -You going in tail first? -Snakes roaming neighborhoods
are one thing, but how did they end up
80 miles from Miami in a remote region
of Everglades National Park? It all began
in the pre-Instagram 1980s when park visitors
filled out cards to report sightings of snakes that were bigger than anything
they’d seen before. -One time, I got a call
from Royal Palm Hammock, and it was about
an 11-footer, a female, didn’t have a mark on her,
and when I opened her up, she was just full of fat —
no parasites, no nothing. This was somebody’s pet,
clearly. -A pet most likely dumped out
of the trunk of someone’s car. -The problem isn’t just pets. Hurricane Andrew destroyed snake
hatcheries in the Miami area sending hundreds of baby snakes
into the Everglades. -By 2000, Meshaka had published
a study warning that Burmese pythons
were reproducing in the southern end of the park. -At the park, it was not met
with the sense of urgency that I felt it warranted. It is, in a way,
a ticking time bomb. Will it be relatively localized? Will it explode?
Which, lo and behold, it did. -In the four years after
Meshaka’s warning, python captures around the park
went from 2 a year to 70. -Got him?
-Yep. -Park officials were caught
behind the curve. -We couldn’t go
to the Home Depot and buy a can of snake-be-gone and just figure out what
the right dosage was to kill it. We didn’t have those tools. Those tools weren’t there. -At the state level, Florida Fish and Wildlife
officials hesitated to ban
the sale of pythons, a move that would hurt
the state’s then-$100 million
reptile industry, hoping the snakes
might die off on their own. -We keep saying,
“Well, let’s just make sure we get this right,” you know? “We don’t want to ruffle
any feathers. Let’s make sure we really know that this is gonna be
a problem before we go and really impact
somebody’s livelihood.” Were we taking it seriously? I would — in my personal, no. -What forced the issue
onto everyone’s radar were clashes between pythons
and the park’s top predator, the alligator. -After a 30-hour
exhaustive battle, a draw. What you’re looking at
is a 13-foot python that ate an entire 6-foot
alligator before bursting. -That was sort of the very
first, very public display of these two
rather large reptiles, and it’s kind of a turning point
for both management as well as the media,
I think, to pay attention. -And pay attention they did. -An alien species is invading
the swampland of America. -As python captures soared
at 367 in one year, so did media speculation about how big
and scary the problem was. -Snakes are eating Florida. -150,000… -183,000… -Over 200,000… -…on the loose, traveling
faster than you might think. -A clear and present danger
to people. -What would come out would be,
“Big snake. Be afraid.” -Adding to the sense of panic,
a tragedy in 2009. ♪♪ ♪♪ -The autopsy report revealed
the snake had, in fact, strangled 2-year-old
Shaianna Hare and may have tried
to eat her. -There have been 10 Americans
strangled by constrictors since 1990, all victims in homes
where snakes were kept as pets. Pythons have never attacked
a tourist in the Everglades, but that didn’t stop park
visitors from being spooked. -I was afraid that there would
be snakes everywhere — pythons and everything. -The real danger,
park biologists argue, was not to humans
but to wildlife. With few natural predators
to keep them in check, pythons were eating their way
through the ecosystem, devastating populations
of native birds and mammals, including a 76-pound deer. -We know very little about them
in their native habitat, so it makes it that much harder when they become
an invasive species. -She’s not happy. -With their $10 billion effort to restore the Everglades
under threat… -Oh, watch out!
-…federal and state agencies began spending $1 million
a year on python control… -Find it, Bea!
Find it, find it, find it! -…enlisting
a python-sniffing dog, implanting transmitters
in so-called Judas snakes to lead scientists
to mating areas… -Aah!
-…and setting traps. But the efforts
barely made a dent. The snakes set new records
for length, this one over 17 feet, and for eggs —
79 in one female. -Ready?
One, two, three, smile! -With Florida still allowing
the sale of pythons as pets, the federal government in 2008 began considering a ban
on imports of Burmese pythons and eight other giant snakes. The reptile industry argued
it would kill jobs in their $2 billion
national industry. -It will destroy
American businesses, and it will damage hundreds
of thousands of people economically. -There’s no Second Amendment
that says I can keep a python, but if you take
the Burmese python away, the next thing you know,
you’re taking a leopard gecko away,
and then maybe your dog or cat. You know, where does it stop? -The action that we’re
taking today is a milestone for us in the protection
of the Everglades. -In the end,
after years of debate, as pythons expanded their range,
the government went ahead and banned imports
of eight giant snakes. One newspaper expressed
skepticism, saying, “It’s closing the reptile cage after the snakes
have already slithered out.” But pythons are not the only
escaped or released pets that have become
a public menace. -Scientists are tracking
an exotic invader — a small fish that has become one of the biggest bullies
in the Atlantic Ocean. -Venomous lionfish, imported from Asia
for aquariums, are preying on native fish
from Florida to Rhode Island. -We have this non-native
species living here, and it really
likes utility poles. -Exotic birds from South America are causing headaches
for power companies, and Florida’s latest
pet gone wild? -It’s a cold-blooded killer, eating its way
through the Everglades. -A four-foot lizard
with a nasty bite, the Argentine tegu. -There is nothing similar
to this lizard in Florida, so when they get
to a place like this, it’s kind of like walking into
an untouched banquet table. -Tegus are eating the eggs
of native birds and reptiles. Scientists are trying to
contain it through trapping. -Nothing. -But the lizard is reproducing
in two counties and spreading. -To the west of us, where tegus are heading
towards rapidly, is one of the largest
nesting areas for the threatened
American crocodile. A species that we brought back
from the brink of extinction now may be threatened again
by an invasive species. -In Florida, where there are now
more non-native lizards than native ones, officials say stopping the tegu
is a top priority. And yet tegus are still
for sale as pets, virtually guaranteeing more releases
or escapes into the wild. -I think, overall,
the problem that we’re having is that we as human beings
do not react until we’ve demonstrated
there’s a real problem. When you get to the point
where you know you have trouble, then it’s too late to fix it. -What do you guys think your
chances are of finding a python? -Good.
Oh, real good, yeah. -After a public hunt
in the Everglades in 2013 bagged a disappointing
68 snakes, officials switched gears, hiring a posse
of trained python hunters to track them down
and remove them, paying minimum wage and a bounty
of up to $25 a foot. -Take a look at this monster
in the swamp — a gigantic python
more than 17 feet long. -They just get
longer and longer. -But so far, nothing has
stopped the python population from swelling
to an estimated 100,000, and the National Park Service
now admits the big snakes are here to stay. -We don’t know what to bring
to the battle, right? We really don’t yet have
all that figured out. -Battling invasive animals, including those that arrived
by way of the pet trade, costs taxpayers an estimated
$50 billion a year. -We really should have
a proactive approach, and we still don’t. Nobody’s screening
all the non-native wildlife that’s being imported
into United States to say which one’s gonna be
the next bad actor. I mean, that right there
just floors me. -Maybe the way to put it is
that the lesson learned is that no one’s
learned their lesson. How’s that for
an awful lesson learned? ♪♪

Randy Schultz

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3 thoughts on “This Snake Is Eating the Everglades | Retro Report on PBS

  1. Brandon Davidson says:

    Wasn't there already a Retro Report episode about this years ago? Also, bring back Zachary Green!

  2. Holl Cap says:

    Poor snakes, it's not their fault but they're paying the price 😣

  3. Melinda Nelson says:

    This absolutely makes me sick!!! I live in Central Florida. I’ve read where they r being found in north Florida and other southern states. These creepy useless things can survive just about anywhere. I say start out just bombing the Everglades but then innocent wildlife will die. People who let these things go need strict fines and prison sentences. Many years in prison!!

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