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Agency confirms Burmese python sighting near Snell Isle

ST. PETERSBURG — The snake showed itself only briefly in a bayou near the Renaissance Vinoy Golf Club before it jetted away and out of sight.

Two people fishing in a small boat in the mangroves near the Snell Isle neighborhood reported that they spotted a Burmese python on Memorial Day, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has confirmed the sighting.

The boaters said they saw about 8 feet of the snake above water and were able to capture a grainy cellphone image before it swam away, according to a report of the incident posted online.

Barbara Heck, immediate past president of the Snell Isle Property Owners Association, sent an alert to area residents on Monday, warning them about the python's presence.

"We're concerned about residents and reminding everyone not to leave their treasured pets outside unattended," Heck said.

She said she does not know of anyone in the neighborhood who has seen the snake, but she did receive five responses within about 20 minutes of the time she sent the alert. People said they would keep an eye out for the creature and be mindful of where their pets roam.

Heck said the neighborhood is home to plenty of wildlife, including raccoons, possums and alligators. But the snake "needs to be gently removed to a place that is a much better facility for it," she said.

Marc Fatigati, supervisor at the golf club, said a couple of people who appeared to be professional "snake wranglers" visited last week to check for the python. He said he was told the snake is between 8 and 12 feet long.

"They said it was off of our No. 12 hole in the mangroves, so we had a couple of guys who came out and tried to locate the thing," Fatigati said. "Obviously they didn't find it."

The snake's presence is concerning, he said, but the course is closed for renovations until June 22. He hopes it will be caught and removed before the course reopens.

"It is kind of a worry for people hunting for golf balls in the mangroves," Fatigati said.

Burmese pythons are not native to Florida. There is an established population in the Everglades, but pythons spotted north of that area are usually released house pets, according to the conservation commission. They have been labeled a conditional species that can no longer be bought as pets in Florida.

The snakes are nonvenomous and generally feast on small animals and birds, the commission says. The average length of a python is 6 to 9 feet.

Last month, a Miami man killed a Burmese python that was 18 feet, 8 inches long — a state record.

But at least one resident near the St. Petersburg mangroves where the python was spotted last week remains unfazed.

"You're used to seeing rays and other crazy animals, but nothing out of the ordinary," said Kevin Steele, 22, who paddleboards around the mangroves.

He said he has not seen the python yet.

The water in the area is brackish and ranges from 6 inches to 3 feet deep, Steele said. He plans to continue exploring the bayou regardless of the snake sighting.

"I doubt that they'll give me trouble if I go by on a paddleboard," he said.

Anyone who spots a Burmese python can call the conservation commission's Exotic Species Hotline at 1-888-483-4681. Sightings also can be reported online at ivegot1.org or through the IVEGOT1 smartphone app.

Zachary T. Sampson can be reached at zsampson@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8804. On Twitter @zacksampson.

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Take a look

To see a picture and find out more about the Snell Isle python sighting and others in the area, visit the Early Detection & Distribution Mapping System at eddmaps.org. Click on "Distribution Maps" at the top of the page, then click on "Animal Distribution." Find "Burmese python" under the subject column and click to find a map of sightings in Florida. Click on the one in St. Petersburg, then click on "more information."

Agency confirms Burmese python sighting near Snell Isle 06/04/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 5, 2013 12:18pm]
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