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CRIST: IT'S PEOPLE VS. PYTHONS

The governor calls the giant snakes a public safety threat.

The proliferation of pythons in Florida caught the attention Wednesday of Gov. Charlie Crist, who said capturing the giant creatures is a public safety issue.

Wildlife officials touted the captures of six snakes in the first two weeks of an eradication program. But they added there may be more than 100,000 of them slithering through the saw grass of the Everglades, some of them up to 26 feet long. Most of them are in remote western Miami-Dade County and in the Upper Keys.

Crist, conducting one of his occasional visits to agencies under his control, paid a call on the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to get a status report on controlling the python population.

"My greatest concern is for the people," Crist said.

The issue drew heightened attention after a pet Burmese python strangled a 2-year-old girl in Sumter County last month. Sen. Bill Nelson has proposed a federal ban on pythons as pets, and Crist's administration may ask the Legislature to ban Internet sales of pythons next year. Earlier this year, state officials floated the idea of offering a bounty on pythons.

Through Oct. 31, certified holders of Reptile of Concern licenses in Florida can capture pythons. They can sell the hide and meat, but are not paid for their work.

Tim Breault, a species expert at the wildlife commission, said pythons are usually docile, but pose a threat to native and endangered species.

Inside one captured python was the radio collar of aKey Largo woodrat, an endangered species.

"I guess the snake didn't know it was endangered," Crist said.

Steve Bousquet can be reached at bousquet@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.

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