Dogs Sniff Out Exotic Pythons in the Everglades

The giant invasive snakes that are thought to be breeding and munching their way through the native animals in Florida’s Everglades may have found their nemesis in the form of one of America’s most beloved pets, the Labrador retriever.

“The scenario sounds like a low-budget movie from the 1970s: Humongous snakes are on the loose, eating everything in sight.”

“The scenario sounds like a low-budget movie from the 1970s: Humongous snakes are on the loose, eating everything in sight. But this is real — a problem that Auburn University and its canines are helping to combat,” Auburn said in a news statement released earlier this month.

“Detection dogs trained by Auburn University were used to find Burmese pythons in Everglades National Park during a recent study on ways to manage and eradicate these nonnative, invasive snakes,” the university said.

The statement added that “precipitous declines in formerly common mammals in Everglades National Park have been linked to the presence of invasive Burmese pythons, according to a study published January 30 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. (Read the National Geographic story: Pythons Eating Through Everglades Mammals at “Astonishing” Rate?)

“The study, the first to document the ecological impacts of this invasive species, strongly supports that animal communities in this 1.5-million-acre park have been markedly altered by the introduction of pythons within 11 years of their establishment as an invasive species.  Mid-sized mammals are the most dramatically affected.

“The most severe declines, including a nearly complete disappearance of raccoons, rabbits and opossums, have occurred in the remote southernmost regions of the park, where pythons have been established the longest.  In this area, populations of raccoons dropped 99.3 percent, opossums 98.9 percent and bobcats 87.5 percent. Marsh and cottontail rabbits, as well as foxes, were not seen at all.”

Swift, Decisive Action

“Pythons are wreaking havoc on one of America’s most beautiful, treasured and naturally bountiful ecosystems,” said U.S. Geological Survey director Marcia McNutt. “Right now, the only hope to halt further python invasion into new areas is swift, decisive, and deliberate human action.”

Jake and Ivy, both black Labrador retrievers in Auburn’s EcoDogs program, helped researchers capture 19 pythons, most being 6 to 8 feet in length, including a pregnant one with 19 viable eggs, the Auburn news statement said. “Burmese pythons in their native range in Southeast Asia have been known to reach up to 20 feet and weigh almost 200 pounds. The National Park Service has counted 1,825 Burmese pythons that have been caught in and around Everglades National Park since 2000.”

The Auburn study found the use of detection dogs to be a valuable complement to current search and trapping methods used to manage and control pythons.

EcoDogs is a partnership between the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences and the College of Veterinary Medicine’s Animal Health and Performance Program. In the Everglades, Bart Rogers of the College of Veterinary Medicine trained and operated EcoDogs Jake and Ivy.

This post was prepared from news materials issued by Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine, Alabama.

12418031_10153900711084116_8462971761216697621_nDavid Braun is director of outreach with the digital and social media team illuminating the National Geographic Society’s explorer, science, and education programs.

He edits National Geographic Voices, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society’s mission and major initiatives. Contributors include grantees and Society partners, as well as universities, foundations, interest groups, and individuals dedicated to a sustainable world. More than 50,000 readers have participated in 10,000 conversations.

Braun also directs the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship

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Changing Planet

Forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David Braun global perspective and experience across multiple storytelling platforms. His coverage of science, nature, politics, and technology has been published/broadcast by the BBC, CNN, NPR, AP, UPI, National Geographic, TechWeb, De Telegraaf, Travel World, and Argus South African Newspapers. He has published two books and won several journalism awards. He has 120,000 followers on social media. David Braun edits the National Geographic Society blog, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society's mission and initiatives. He also directs the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, awarded to Americans seeking the opportunity to spend nine months abroad, engaging local communities and sharing stories from the field with a global audience. Follow David on Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn