The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has responded to concerns that state-sanctioned Burmese python hunts are cruel and may be causing undue suffering on the invasive species.
In a letter this month to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, FWC defends the programs that encourage contractors and members of the public to remove the damaging snakes from the Everglades ecosystem.
“Members of the public are encouraged to lethally remove pythons to help reduce the threat of this species to our native ecosystem,” wrote Harold “Bud” Vielhauer in a letter to PETA dated Jan. 5.
PETA complained about the hunts last month after articles were written about the record 17-foot snake captured by Jason Leon, a contract hunter for the South Florida Water Management District.
A video taken by water management district officials shows Leon explaining how he caught the python and shot it in the head and later in the neck.
PETA said the only humane way to euthanize a python is with a “penetrating captive-bolt gun or gunshot to the brain.
“Proper positioning for the penetration of the captive-bolt or firearm projectile is critical because of the unique physiological characteristics of reptiles, who require immediate destruction of the brain in order to avoid undue pain and suffering,’” wrote Lori Kettler, PETA deputy general counsel.
PETA requested an investigation into the water management district’s program, and others overseen by the FWC.
Since the district’s python elimination program began in March 2017, 877 snakes have been removed from the Everglades.
Vielhauer explains that the commission is committed to “engaging the public in Everglades conservation through invasive species removal,” and mentions no intent to initiate an investigation.
“The Burmese python is an invasive species that has become established in South Florida, including the Florida Everglades and poses a serious threat to native wildlife,” Vielhauer wrote.
Florida invasive species experts have said the water management district’s python hunt has been the most successful in catching the voracious predators and bringing attention to the problem.
A native to Asia, the Burmese python is considered one of the largest snakes in the world. FWC’s website says it was likely introduced into the Everglades by accident or intentional releases by pet owners. While not venomous, “the giant constrictors have thrived, assuming a top position on the food web.”
In a statement, the district says all python killings “must be conducted in a humane manner.”
“Rules of the Python Elimination Program direct all participating hunters to follow American Veterinary Medical Association guidelines in the eradication of these snakes,” the statement said. “District staff review all claims/complaints levied against the program’s hunters and will continue to enforce the rules of the program.”