Monday, 30 April 2012

In Everglades, tracking pythons may provide clues to vanishing wildlife


EVERGLADES NATIONAL PARK, Fla. — Kristen Hart’s search for a cold-blooded killer came to an end at a perfect hideout — thick scrub brush, dense trees and shade. She crouched with three scouts and whispered.
“Do you see her?” asked Hart, a research ecologist for the U.S. Geological Survey. “Yeah, she’s in there,” answered Thomas Selby, a wildlife biologist. “I think she knows we’re here,” said Brian Smith, another biologist.
Within seconds, the 16 1 / 2-foot Burmese python uncoiled and made a run for it. What happened next is a drama that plays out every week or so, as state and federal biologists try to prove — or disprove — that the giant invasive snakes are the reason for the near disappearance of rabbits, opossums, raccoons, foxes and even bobcats in the southernmost section of the 1.5 million-acre Everglades.
Smith and Selby charged into the trees. “I’ve got the head!” Smith shouted. “Grab the tail!” They stumbled out with the writhing snake in a chokehold, huge mouth agape, ready to bite.
It was actually the second time biologists got their hands on Python 51 — the 51st caught. Two months ago, they surgically fitted her with a radio transmitter, motion detector and global positioning system to study her diet and movements.

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