The University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission are working together on unique projects to target Burmese pythons in Florida. Two projects include using detection dogs and Irula tribesmen to help remove pythons from environmentally sensitive areas.
In their first eight days on the job, the Irula tribesmen — world-renowned snake catchers from India — removed 13 pythons, including four on their first visit to Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge on North Key Largo in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Traditionally, the main occupation of the Irula tribe has been catching snakes. They have successfully hunted and captured Indian pythons in their home province of Tamil Nadu.
“Since the Irula have been so successful in their homeland at removing pythons, we are hoping they can teach people in Florida some of these skills,” said Kristen Sommers, section leader of the FWC’s Wildlife Impact Management Section. “We are working with our partners to improve our ability to find and capture pythons in the wild. These projects are two of several new efforts focused on the removal of these snakes.”
The FWC is currently working with UF/IFAS as well as other partners to identify additional programs to remove more nonnative pythons from Florida.
The FWC and UF/IFAS have been collaborating with public land managers to identify environmentally sensitive areas that would benefit most from targeted python removal. Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge is one such area because of the federally-endangered Key Largo woodrat and many protected bird species that reside there.
UF/IFAS wildlife biologist, Frank Mazzotti, and his team are working with the Irula tribe in South Florida. On Jan. 17, Irula tribesmen, UF/IFAS, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and U.S. Geological Survey cooperators removed four Burmese pythons from the Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge.
Efforts by UF/IFAS researcher, Christina Romagosa, and her team involve working with Auburn University’s Canine Performance Sciences Program. Work by the Auburn/UF detection dog team has focused on searches performed in Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge, and has helped the Irula tribe find the location of and ultimately capture the snakes.
Detection dogs, trained by Auburn University, use scent profiles of pythons to help target search areas. “Dogs are helping to identify areas where pythons are hiding, paving the way for human searchers to target that area for removal,” said Romagosa.
“It is outstanding that they have been able to remove pythons from Key Largo,” said Mazzotti. “And to get four pythons, including a 16-foot female, is just incredible.”