PalmBeachPost.com

Python class puts wildlife workers on the hunt for super-size snakes

By PAUL QUINLAN
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 05, 2009

Pythons, they're coming for you.

Eleven trainees emerged as the newest members of Florida's "Python Patrol" this afternoon after two hours learning how to prod, snatch and hook the massive snakes at the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge.

"It's not a race," said the trainer, Capt. Jeff Fobb of Miami-Dade Fire Rescue's Venom Response Bureau, the country's only nuisance snake emergency response unit. "If you show up, your job is not to catch it in five seconds flat."

Each took turns facing off against one of the seven snakes that Fobb brought, including a 14-foot reticulated python that at one point had coiled itself around the arm of one student, Tiffany Trent.

"My hand's going numb," Trent said as three others jumped in to help pry the snake free.

Today's was the third snake-wrangling class held in Florida. The classes seek to train wildlife professionals in trapping the nuisance, non-native snakes believed to be flourishing in the Everglades.

The students, mostly biologists with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, are trained to be on the lookout for pythons and other non-native snakes.

Pythons first showed up in the Everglades in the mid-1990s, the result of pet owners either releasing the snakes or allowing them to escape from poorly built backyard cages. Since then, the number of sightings has grown exponentially. Scientists believe the Everglades could now hold 30,000 or more.