Irula tribesmen assist UF, wildlife officials in removing pythons in Florida

The Burmese python, one of the largest snake species in the world, has become a huge problem in South Florida, where the nonnatives are breeding and spreading in Everglades National Park and other nearby areas.

pythons

UF’s Frank Mazzotti, right, poses with Irula tribesmen and other researchers after this python was captured.

Catching them is difficult, but now Irula tribesmen, world-renowned snake catchers from India, are assisting in the effort.

VIDEO: On Big Cypress bike ride, Post reporter watched a python wrestle an alligator

In their first eight days on the job, the tribesmen removed 13 pythons from environmentally sensitive areas such as Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge on North Key Largo in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said Tuesday they working together on the project as well as one that involves using detector dogs to help remove pythons.

UF/IFAS wildlife biologist, Frank Mazzotti, and his team are working with the Irula tribe, and on Jan. 17, four pythons were removed from the Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge.

“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.”

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.

Two tribesmen and two translators arrived in early January and will be in South Florida through February. The FWC is funding the $68,888 project.

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.

The FWC and UF/IFAS continue to work with other partners on additional projects aimed at removing pythons and other nonnative species in Florida. People can help with efforts to manage Burmese pythons and other nonnative species by reporting sightings to the FWC’s Exotic Species Reporting Hotline at 888-Ive-Got1 (888-483-4681), online at IveGot1.org, or by downloading the free “IveGot1” smartphone app.

For more information, visit MyFWC.com/Nonnative.