toby

Toby Benoit with a newly captured, juvenile Burmese python.

A few weekends ago, I received a message from one of our readers living in a very rural area, just below our county line. He was a good bit upset as he’d just discovered an 8-foot long Burmese python on the road in front of his driveway. Obviously, I had my doubts, but knowing this fellow, I knew he was a well-educated, sober individual not given to bouts of exaggeration. As well, the swampy wetlands around his home are the perfect habitat for a Burmese python to thrive.

I began doing research on the northern expansion of these non-native, invasive snakes and by some studies published by the United States Geological Service claim that these big snakes can eventually inhabit most parts of the American South, as far north as South Carolina. Of late, we’ve been caught in a cycle of mild winters and the snakes have been slowly hybridizing and evolving in order to adapt to colder weather.

Hybridizing? Yes, many of the Burmese pythons that have been tested, are showing traces of Indian python, a snake far more acclimated to cooler, climates. So, I felt compelled to go direct to one of the top python hunters in North America, the Wildman of the Everglades, Dusty Crum looking for answers.

I drove south to the heart of the python invasion and found a cabin in an unlikely oasis of awesomeness, The Skunk Ape Headquarters. Jack Shealy’s combination campground, zoo, gift shop and museum completely drew me in and I fell in love all over again with the Everglades. Staying there as well, I met up with Dusty and his longtime love Natalee Mckinee and their pup, Riley, the number one python-hunting beagle in America. After a bit of catching up, it wasn’t long before I began asking Dusty’s input on my concerns about the python’s migrating northward.

“Yeah, they’re turning up in a lot of new areas. They’re adapting and evolving and growing at rates never imagined. There’s a lot of research going on and a lot more to be done,” Dusty began telling me as we loaded into his highly customized python hunting truck (complete with pizza oven). “But Maggie, (Margaret Hunter, a biologist at USGS) has been developing a new tracking program based on water samples. She can test the waters and tell you if Burmese pythons are present and get an idea even, of how many may be in the area. Only recently she discovered a huge population up by Lake Okeechobee I need to go check out.”

Dusty’s hit show on Discovery, Guardians of the Glades, has really shined a spotlight on the invasive species problem here in Florida, creating enough public awareness that Gov. Ron Desantis has pledged to double the current budget for fighting back against the invasion. Due to space restraints, I’ll have to tell you all more about that next week and give an overview of the current programs and their impact to date as well as share a few details of that night’s hunt.

I surely thank you for all of your input and as always, if you have any feedback, give me a shout at RebelYellOutdoors@gmail.com. God Bless and Good Hunting!

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