U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson called Tuesday for organized hunts of thousands of pythons believed to be living in the Everglades to kill the snakes and prevent potential attacks.
Nelson's request came in a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who got a first-hand look at a 15-foot python found in the swampland during a visit in May hosted by the senator. And it comes just weeks after a 2-year-old central Florida girl was strangled by an unlicensed pet python that escaped from a terrarium in her home, drawing further attention to the issue.
"They are threatening endangered wildlife there," the Democratic lawmaker wrote to his former Senate colleague, "and, Lord forbid, a visitor in the Everglades ever encounters one."
Nelson has estimated 100,000 pythons are living in the Everglades, a population believed to be the result, at least in part, of pets released into the wild when they grow too big. "They now have become such a problem in the park," said Dan McLaughlin, Nelson's spokesman, "you could spend the next 10 years setting traps."
The senator asked Salazar to approve supervised hunts of the snakes by U.S. Park Service staff, other authorities and volunteers to kill the pythons en masse. The invasive species have been multiplying in the Everglades for years.
Kendra Barkoff, a spokeswoman for Salazar, said the secretary agreed pythons "pose a significant threat to the Florida Everglades and must be dealt with immediately" but did not comment specifically on the idea of authorizing hunts.
Pythons are difficult to find in summer, when they're known to hide in saw grass, but often come out to roadsides and other open areas during winter to get some sun. Nelson didn't elaborate on how a hunt for the snakes would be conducted.
Nelson has introduced a bill to ban imports of the snakes, after years of trying to persuade federal wildlife officials to restrict their entry into the country. At a hearing on the bill earlier this month, Nelson spoke as a massive skin of a python was set on a table.
During Salazar's visit to the Everglades in May, he was shown a roughly 90-pound Burmese python that was caught in the park. "Look at the size of him!" Nelson said as the snake was taken out of a container. It took three people to restrain.