“Pythons frequently occupy the burrows of Gopher Tortoises (Gopherus polyphemus) and Armadillos (Dasypus novemcinctus) in the dry season, both for shelter and reproductive activities,” said Conservancy biologist Ian Bartoszek. These burrows are in higher, upland habitats that are located adjacent to low wetlands and waterways. The identification of this association provides a useful target for land managers to direct their search activities and increases their odds of locating and removing the invaders.
Since Burmese pythons have been found nearby two of the Conservancy’s upland properties located within Rookery Bay Reserve a concentrated effort was made by Conservancy scientists to explore these lands for indications of python presence. Recently this team completed an intensive systematic grid search on these lands. This included an inventory of 307 burrows of various sizes that were scoped using a gopher tortoise camera. A total of 64 tortoises were documented within the burrow systems.
Fortunately, as of December 2014, there were no signs that pythons or any other large constrictor had moved into the Conservancy’s properties in Rookery Bay. No constrictors were found in any of the burrows and no evidence of skin sheds or large snake trails were found that would have indicated the presence of a constrictor.In addition to gopher tortoises, there were sightings of native snakes, bear, panther, raccoon tracks and scat indicative that our properties are being uti¬lized and support native wildlife, said Conservancy Science Director Kathy Worley.
Continued monitoring and repetition of these types of surveys will hopefully enable the Conservancy to manage and keep these “prime exotic snake properties” constrictor free - or at least under tight control. However, continued vigilance is needed, given that during this survey an 8 ft. python was captured by Rookery Bay staff less than 1 mile from Conservancy lands.
These baseline surveys established that although pythons have not utilized our properties to date, there is still an elevated risk that these invasive predators could easily infiltrate these areas, given the close proximity of recently captured exotic constrictors.These surveys were sponsored by The Mary Reinhart Stackhouse Foundation and we are deeply appre-ciative of their financial support.
“The impacts of this exotic top predator on native wildlife are of great concern,” said Worley, adding that large declines in mammal populations have been recorded in Everglades National Park.
“The combination of large size, extremely cryptic habits, and high rate of reproduction make it almost impossible to eradicate pythons from Florida,” said Bartoszek.
The first observation of a wild Burmese python in South Florida was recorded in the Everglades in 1979. The population has increased dramatically in the last 15 years and can be found from coast to coast in South Florida. Population size can’t be estimated with current knowledge, but many experts estimate numbers in the hundreds of thousands.
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