Florida wildlife officials say this summer's publicity about Burmese pythons may be leading to more reports of illegally held reptiles.
They've just released numbers showing a dramatic increase in snake reports just in the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's Northeast Region, which covers 12 Central Florida counties.
Between January and June 30, the wildlife commission's northeast region handled 13 snake reports, said agency spokeswoman Joy Hill.
But since July 1, when a Burmese python killed a young Sumter County girl, that office has handled 38 snake-related calls.
That's a 192 percent increase over the first six months of the year.
The statistics do not specify the types of snakes involved in those calls, but Hill said most involved exotics, including Burmese pythons.
On Monday, Hill said her agency has seen an uptick in people reporting pythons suspected of being held without state required permits. But she could not immediately provide reporting numbers to demonstrate the trend.
Since the Sumter County incident in early July, barely a week has gone by without the constrictors making news somewhere in the state.
Last week started with officials pitching new legislation to control sales of the reptiles and ended with the capture of Delilah, an 18-foot python kept in a backyard chain-link enclosure in Apopka. In between, an 11-foot male and a 17-foot female, both Burmese pythons, were seized from a Lakeland residence.
The number of captive Burmese pythons kept illegally is hard to determine.
Python publicity may be prompting reports of a few suspicious cases. But Hill encourages unlicensed python owners to contact the wildlife commission voluntarily and obtain required permits and microchips for the snakes.
Permitting helps wildlife officials ensure that owners are familiar with caring for and providing safe housing for the snakes. It also lets experts know exactly where these "reptiles of concern" are. Well-cared-for Burmese pythons will grow rapidly and eventually become difficult to conceal.
Snake owners considering ways to safely get rid of pythons with no questions asked can attend a "pet amnesty day." Locally, one is scheduled for Nov. 7 at Busch Gardens in Tampa.
People who suspect a Burmese python is being held without a permit can call the wildlife alert hotline at 1-888-404-3922.