From a press conference in the Everglades, where the dumping of exotic snakes has become an environmental disaster, the federal government Tuesday morning announced a ban on the import of the Burmese pythons, South African python, North African python, and yellow anaconda.
The ban, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said, would last "forever" -- but at least one Everglades official said the measure was "too little, too late" to save Florida's river of grass from the ravages of the invasive species, which prey on animals native to the Glades, compete for food, muscle other species from their habitats, and feature regularly in our nightmares.
"The Burmese python has already gained a foothold in the Florida Everglades, and we must do all we can to battle its spread and to prevent further human contributions of invasive snakes that cause economic and environmental damage," Salazar said in a statement before announcing the measure on Tamiami Trail.
Under law, the ban will prevent the "interstate transport and importation of live individuals, gametes, viable eggs, or hybrids" of the four snakes into the United States. Though the rule is a reduction from the original proposal of nine species (leaving out the reticulated python, boa constrictor, and three other anacondas), something is certainly better than nothing -- especially with the discovery that the snakes can survive in saltwater, too, placing the Florida Keys and other nearby ecosystems in danger.
"Burmese pythons have already caused substantial harm in Florida," said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe, who brought the agency's new snake-sniffing dog to the press conference. "By taking this action today, we will help prevent further harm from these large constrictor snakes to native wildlife, especially in habitats that can support constrictor snake populations across the southern United States and in U.S. territories."
The Everglades' infestation of large snakes, believed to be the work of irresponsible pet owners, has led to sci-fi-worthy headlines, including a python-vs-alligator battle that left both combatants dead and the recent discovery of a deer inside the stomach of a 16-foot python.
But even more alarmingly, according to National Geographic, nearly half of the species on the U.S. endangered species list are threatened wholly or partly by non-native species. Though the snakes have been recognized as a threat for years, legislation banning their import has been held up by lobbying on behalf of the reptile industry, frustrating environmentalists and those tasked with eradicating or controlling the population.
“This rule was swallowed up in the federal bureaucracy for 22 months, and put through a political meat grinder, leaving us with a severely diminished final action,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, in a statement. “We expect trade to shift to the species omitted from the trade ban, and we can only hope that the Interior Department takes a careful look and revisits the issue.”