Update: Why India tribesman are catching pythons in abandoned Florida missile shelters

Two long-abandoned military buildings in the Florida Keys once used as missile shelters were recently found to be housing another inhabitant – invasive and damaging Burmese pythons.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says four large snakes, including a nearly 16-foot long female, were found within the past month at the old missile base at Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge. 

Watch: Alligator’s epic battle with invasive python captured on video 

The 6,500-acre refuge includes an area where the military once had a Nike Hercules missile firing range where soldiers were prepped to fire the nuclear-armed missiles at Cold War-era enemies. The range closed three decades ago, but several buildings remain, including the bunkers, which are under mounds of earth.

Photo credit Jeremy Dixon, USFWS.

Two Irula tribesman from India stand in front of a missile bunker with one of the pythons they caught. the tribesman are expert snake catchers and are helping in the hunt for invasive pythons. Photo credit Jeremy Dixon, USFWS.

“Snakes like deep, dark places,” said Crocodile Lake manager Jeremy Dixon in a press release about the pythons.

Video: See hunters pursue snakes at the python challenge 

The harmful python has been a persistent problem in the Everglades, and scientists fear they snakes are now moving south “where several Keys species are defenseless against the large, invasive reptiles.”

Dixon said the area at Crocodile Lake is also home to black rats and hundreds of feral cats, both food sources for the snakes.

Related: 10-foot Burmese python found at wildlife refuge

“The easy availability of food means the pythons could thrive on the Keys just as easily as they have multiplied in the Everglades,” the press release said. “For more than two decades, an array of big snakes have spread and bred in the Everglades. Their presence has had a devastating effect on native birds, deer and other species in the park.”

The University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Services and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission are working with Irula tribesman from India to hunt down pythons.

The Irula are renowned for their snake-catching skills.

“Since the Irula have been so successful in their homeland at removing pythons, we are hoping they can teach people in Florida some of these skills,” said Kristen Sommers, section leader of the FWC’s Wildlife Impact Management Section in a January press release. “We are working with our partners to improve our ability to find and capture pythons in the wild. These projects are two of several new efforts focused on the removal of these snakes.”

Wildlife officials encourage anyone who sees a python to report the details so hunters can try to remove them. To report a python sighting, call the FWC’s Exotic Species Hotline at 888-483-4681 or online at www.IveGot1.org.

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Photo credit Ed Metzger, University of Florida

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