According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Florida has more nonnative reptile and amphibian species than anywhere else in the world.There are more non-native lizards breeding in Florida than native ones.
The US suffers an estimated $120 billion in damages each year from non-native species. You were all excited about the possibility of winning a couple billion? Chump change compared to what non-natives cost us.
One of those invasive species is the Burmese Python. They started showing up in the Everglades in the 1980s. It’s generally believed the problem was caused by people releasing pets into the wild, but what isn’t widely known is Hurricane Andrew destroyed a reptile breeding facility when the storm blew through south Florida, and many of the invasives we have now can be traced to that event. It’s currently estimated there are 100,000 pythons living in the wild in Florida (source: wildlifewatch.org). Burmese pythons have almost wiped out the small mammals that are native to south Florida, including wood storks and Key Largo woodrats, which are endangered species.
The python problem has gotten so bad in the Florida Everglades that it’s changing the park’s ecosystem. This isn’t speculation; it’s the findings of a study by Dr. Robert McCleery, et al, published in April 2015. Dr. McCleery’s team released 26 marsh rabbits fitted with tracking devices into the Everglades. During the winter months the rabbits reproduced and thrived. Then when the weather warmed up, the rabbits disappeared. And guess where they found them? Yep, inside the bodies of Burmese Pythons. (click here to read the published report)
So what is Florida doing about the python problem? They’re hunting pythons. The state is currently sponsoring a Python hunt. The 2016 Python Challenge takes place from January 16 to February 14. It’s a competition to see who can catch the most Burmese pythons. In theory, it’s supposed to help get rid of the nuisance snakes. In reality, the last Python Challenge in 2013 brought 1600 hunters to the state and they caught a total of 68 snakes.
Burmese pythons are a major problem, but they are a man-made problem that is typical of the Florida mindset of make money now, deal with the consequences later. With all the problems faced by the state, Governor Rick Scott told his staff to not use the terms “climate change” and “global warming,” and he’s spending a million dollars in PAC money donated by special interest groups to lobby the legislature to approve a billion dollars in tax cuts for businesses (source: Floridatoday.com). Really? All these problems and you want to spend less to deal with them?
Oh, and if you think Florida learned its breeder lesson, think again. Panther Tracks Learning Center quarantines rhesus and cynomolgus macaques shipped into the country from overseas and breeds the animals as well. These animals are sold to research labs across the US. Worldwide Primates in Miami does the same. A third breeding facility seeking to open faces stiff opposition from animal rights activists (source: Bloomberg Business, October 2015). What fun it would be if those animals were released during a natural disaster.
Bottom line is this: If you want to make an easy buck at the expense of animals, Florida is definitely the place to be. If, on the other hand, you give a damn about animal welfare, you really don’t want to live here.