Research published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences indicates critical wildlife shortages in areas invaded by Burmese pythons. According to this paper, whose lead author is Michael Dorcas,
road surveys totaling 56,971 km from 2003–2011 documented a 99.3% decrease in the frequency of raccoon observations, decreases of 98.9% and 87.5% for opossum and bobcat observations, respectively, and failed to detect rabbits. Road surveys also revealed that these species are more common in areas where pythons have been discovered only recently and are most abundant outside the python’s current introduced range. These findings suggest that predation by pythons has resulted in dramatic declines in mammals within ENP and that introduced apex predators, such as giant constrictors, can exert significant top-down pressure on prey populations. Severe declines in easily observed and/or common mammals, such as raccoons and bobcats, bode poorly for species of conservation concern, which often are more difficult to sample and occur at lower densities.
The problem is magnified by the fact that Burmese pythons have no natural predators in the Everglades, which allows them to multiply unchecked. They are also adept at hiding, making it difficult for humans to trap the animals and preserve the Everglade’s delicate ecosystem.
However, humans may have help from man’s best friend, the dog. Stymied in its attempts to root out this destructive species, the Army Corps of Engineers approached Auburn University’s EcoDog Corps, asking if their Labrador retrievers could be used in its fight against the pythons.
According to an article in Oanow, dogs were significantly better at finding pythons than humans. In a test of their ability to find snakes in canals, dogs were 92% accurate while humans were only 64% accurate. However, dogs do not perform as well during hot, humid weather, a result that suggests winter months may be the best time for the dogs to operate. The dogs are in no danger from the snakes: as long as humans are present, the pythons curl up defensively when they are found and do not strike or lash out at the dogs.
While the dogs have only found 19 pythons out of the many thousands in the Everglades, these positive results suggest yet another way of fighting back against this invasion and saving Florida’s unique ecosystem.
Please be sure to watch the video accompanying this post. It contains stunning photo footage of the Everglades and a thorough explanation of the threat posed by Burmese Pythons.
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