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Overrun with snakes, Florida looks to bounty hunters

Florida considers bounty hunters to deal with pythons, which threaten people and endangered native species.

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A 10-foot-long albino python captured in Florida.

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Unrolling the skin of a 17-foot Burmese python at a congressional hearing Wednesday, Sen. Bill Nelson (D) of Florida focused America’s attention on the biggest invader on the continent, saying it’s only a matter of time until one of the 150,000 suspected pythons in south Florida nabs a tourist.

But of all the ideas floated to get a grip on pythons and other exotic imports creeping and crawling through America’s undergrowth, only one stands out to Florida snake experts as having a real impact: bounty hunters.

“Right now, the alligators are losing battles with exotic pythons, but python skins and meat aren’t worth anything. You’ve got to give incentives for guys to go hunt them. That’s what it’s going to take,” says Patrick Barry, owner of Wildlife Removal Services in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Two weeks before a toddler was killed in Florida on July 1 – the 12th known python casualty in US history – Mr. Barry was called to a scene where a nine-foot-long pet python had been on its way into a kiddie pool occupied by two toddlers before the parents spotted it.

“I don’t know if the snake escaped or some guy let it loose,” says Barry.

Among a variety of proposed measures, Congress is looking to create one port of entry for exotics, but it’s not clear if that will have a measurable impact on the trade. Pet smuggling, after all, is second only to drug smuggling in the international black market.

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