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Florida hopes to stop anacondas before they eat Everglades

February 22, 2019

PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Invasive pythons run rampant in the Everglades and imported iguana burrow into canal banks with abandon, but Florida is trying to keep additional exotics from gaining a foothold in the state with new rules considered this week.

Critters including several species of anaconda, the raccoon dog and a freaky fruit bat called the flying fox could be added to the state’s prohibited species list by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission during its recent meeting in Gainesville.

The animals under consideration are already on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s list of “injurious” species, meaning they can’t be imported into the country. But because they aren’t on Florida’s list of prohibited species, they can come into the state from other states, be used for commercial purposes, or possessed as pets.

“Anything that can get to the size that an anaconda does really shouldn’t be allowed to be owned as a pet in Florida,” said Mike Kirkland, a South Florida Water Management District scientist and project manager for its python elimination program.

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In 2015, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed three anaconda species and the reticulated python as “injurious reptiles” noting that it was criticized for waiting until 2012 to list the Burmese python as injurious.

It’s unknown how many Burmese pythons roam the Everglades, but estimates are in the tens of thousands. ...

“Every python removed from the system gives native animals down there a fighting chance,” Kirkland said. “Our program is the most successful management tool to date, but it’s just one tool in a large toolbox.”

Segelson said there are no reports of raccoon dogs — a fox-like animal indigenous to East Asia — in the wild in Florida. Also, no flying foxes — giant fruit bats with wing spans of up to six feet — have been spotted. But they are considered high-risk species that could become established in Florida, Segelson said.

Other animals on the list for prohibition include the brown tree snake, mongoose, brushtail possum and Java sparrow.

According to the FWC, more than 12 million wild-caught reptiles from elsewhere in the world were imported into the U.S. between 1999 and 2010. That included more than 9 million that came through Florida ports.

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Information from: The Palm Beach (Fla.) Post, http://www.pbpost.com