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16-ft python killed in Okeechobee
 By Katrina Elsken, Okeechobee News

When 11-year- old Cory Surls visited his uncle’s veterinary clinic on Thursday, he found more ex­citement than he had expected.
On the bank of the canal next to Jim Harvey’s Okeechobee Vet­erinary Hospital, Cory spotted the biggest snake he had ever seen. A 16-foot python was on the ground near the canal just east of the vet­erinary hospital on State Road 70. 

He ran to tell Dr. Harvey, who killed the massive reptile with a single .22 shot to the head. Cory said he and his cousin Austin Harvey were in the clinic office when one of the ladies in the office asked them to go look for a big snake that had been spotted near the clinic recently. He said he was surprised when he saw it because he did not expect it to be so big.

 He added that he did not get very close. “I stayed on this side of the fence,” he said, indicating a fence between the property and the canal.   Veterinarian Dr. Candace Davis said they knew a large snake had been in the area for months. “Nearly a year ago, we saw him in the water, but we didn’t know how big he was,” she said. “We didn’t want a snake that big hanging around here,” she added, since a snake that big could a danger to pets and children.

Cory Surls (right) and Austin Harvey examine the python they found Thursday. Photo courtesy Okeechobee News. Staffers from Okeechobee Veterinary Hospital lined up to help measure the python that Dr. Jim Harvey killed on the bank of a canal next to the clinic Thursday afternoon. Photo courtesy Claire Hudson.

“Dr. Harvey dispatched it with a single shot to the head,” she said. Although the bullet to the brain killed the snake, the python’s coils continued to move for nearly an hour as the muscles contracted in involuntary spasms.

Okeechobee Animal Control had been called about the snake when it was sited previously, but they had been unable to find it.  Claire Hudson, of Animal Control, said workers from the Okeechobee Road Department spotted the snake just a few days ago and called her. “But it was gone before we got here.”   She said Animal Control handles snake calls, but this was the first time she was called about a snake this size. 

When the snake was dead, Veterinary Hospital personnel stretched it out and measured it.   “We couldn’t believe how big it was,” said Austin Harvey.  “I had heard a lot of stories about these big snakes, but I didn’t believe a snake this big would be in Okeechobee this close to homes,” he said. “It scares me to think there could be more.”

Florida Fish and Wildlife Officers were called to pick up the snake, said Chief of Police Denny Davis. FWC will autopsy the snake to gather more data. Florida’s python problems have been in the news since July 2, when a pet snake killed a two-year-old in Sumter County.  On July 13, Senator Bill Nelson, who supports legislation to ban the importation of the snakes, asked Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to allow organized hunts to kill the snakes and prevent potential attacks.

The python invasion is believed the result of pet pythons illegally released in the wild coupled with snakes which escaped into the Everglades after hurricanes—which in turn bred more pythons. It has been estimated there are as many as 100,000 pythons now in the Everglades, where they threaten to destroy the ecosystem with their consumption of native wildlife, including some endangered species.

 A program to begin addressing the invasion of Burmese pythons in the Everglades began on Friday, July 17. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) initiated a permit program that will allow herpetology experts to go into state­managed lands in South Florida and search for and euthanize Burmese pythons and other Reptiles of Concern.

“One Burmese python is too many,” said Scott Hardin, the FWC’s Exotic Species Sec­tion leader. “We hope this program is the basis for a larger, expanded program that will aid us in preventing the spread of this species.” The permits for the first phase of this program go from July 17 to Oct. 31. The FWC will then evaluate expanding the program.

Copyright © 2009 Okeechobee News 07/31/2009



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