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Florida must kill pythons. PETA has trouble with how.

A South Florida Water Management District video of python hunter Jason Leon (left) with the record 17 foot, 1-inch Burmese python earlier this month. But the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has an issue with the way this particular python was killed.
A South Florida Water Management District video of python hunter Jason Leon (left) with the record 17 foot, 1-inch Burmese python earlier this month. But the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has an issue with the way this particular python was killed.
Published Dec. 20, 2017

Unlike other animals frequently found in the wild in Florida — manatees, panthers, sea turtles and so forth — no one is campaigning to save the pythons.

The giant snakes are considered an invasive species, not one that belongs in the Everglades. They have virtually wiped out all the raccoons, foxes and other small mammals that once thrived in the southern part of the River of Grass. A recent study has raised the question of whether they're also spreading new parasites among native Florida snakes.

The state has set out to kill off as many pythons as possible. None of the organizations that usually protest animal cruelty have complained about this — until now.

The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals on Tuesday fired off a letter to the South Florida Water Management District and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to question how one record-breaking python was killed.

A video that the water agency posted online, which the Miami Herald published on its website on Dec. 5, that showed two hunters who had captured and killed a record-setting 17-foot, 1-inch snake. One of them mentioned that the snake was shot in both the head and, later, the neck.

To PETA officials, that was one shot too many, prompting the letter questioning whether the snakes are being killed in a humane fashion. The correct way to kill a python, the letter pointed out, is with a single shot to the brain.

The letter noted that the Herald story also featured a photo of a 15-foot python shot by Miccosukee Indian Tribe police that had a bloody wound on its neck.

"First, if the hunter had correctly positioned the shot to the head, the animal would have died relatively rapidly and there would have been no need for a second shot on the neck later," PETA general counsel Lori Kettler wrote. "Second, ... a python should never be shot in the neck since it's imperative that the animal's brain be destroyed immediately to avoid prolonged suffering."

RELATED:Relocated Everglades pythons can find their way home (March 19, 2017)

Study finds Everglades pythons like saltwater mangroves as much as freshwater marshes (April 28, 2015)

When pythons take over Everglades, raccoons, rabbits and other small mammals vanish (Jan. 30, 2012)

What's depicted on the Herald web site "appears to be evidence of a disregard for the ethical obligation of the State and the hunters to ensure that the pythons do not suffer more than is necessary," Kettler wrote.

The letter brought promises from both the wildlife commission and the water agency to look into the matter.

But the hunter said it's much ado about nothing.

"Those snakes, man, they basically have a lot of nerves," explained Jason Leon, 28, of Palmetto Bay. "Doesn't matter if you cut the head off or blow the whole head off with a shotgun, it's still gonna keep moving for several hours.

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"That snake was shot and killed the first time, and then we put a second bullet in it just to make sure it didn't open its mouth."

Leon, who has been hunting pythons for three years, said he couldn't understand why PETA would be so concerned about the fate of pythons.

"What about all the deer and alligators that those snakes are eating?" he asked. "Are they concerned about them too?"

State wildlife commission spokeswoman Susan Smith said that her agency is "in the process of reviewing and developing a response."

The water district released a statement defending its current hunting program, which pays a bounty to those who bring in dead snakes, noting that so far 750 have been killed. But it, too, pledged to look into the PETA complaint, "and will continue to enforce the rules of the program."

Inhabitants of Southeast Asia, the pythons became established in the Everglades in the 1990s thanks to pet owners who dumped them there when they got too big. Their presence became big news after a biologist named Skip Snow snapped a photo in 2002 that showed a python that had tried to swallow an alligator, and the dying gator apparently made it burst.

No one knows how many thousands of pythons live in South Florida, but scientists do know that they are as hard to get rid of as James Bond. They are ambush hunters, highly skilled at hiding, making them a challenge for even a trained hunter to find.

More than 1,000 hunters took part in the wildlife commission's first Python Challenge in 2013, and they caught a grand total of 68 snakes. A 2016 round-up brought in 106.

If caught and relocated, they find their way back. One returned to Everglades National Park from 22 miles away. They are not afraid of swimming through saltwater, either. Python eggs have been found in the Florida Keys.

The one thing the state cannot do is ask people to eat them, the way it does another invasive species, the lionfish. Pythons are too full of mercury to be safely consumed by humans.

Leon's 17-foot female capture is the record for the water district's ongoing python program. He also holds the all-time state record with a python that stretched 18 feet, eight inches

Contact Craig Pittman at Follow @craigtimes.


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