TC PALM, MIAMI-DADE COUNTY — For Truman and Eleanor, sniffing out a Burmese python comes with a reward: A hard-earned tennis ball and a pat on the head.
The reward for Florida biologists and the Detector Dog Team is one less invasive snake hiding in the Everglades and preying on native mammals, birds and other reptiles.
Truman, a black Labrador, and Eleanor, a speckled point setter, are 2 years old, weigh between 40 and 50 pounds and have a very specific task:
Track down snakes lurking in the South Florida swamp and alert people to their discovery.
The dogs venture out across South Florida’s public lands five days a week with a handler and a state biologist to search for the invasive snakes.
“When we find a python, it’s euphoria,” said Paula Ziadi, the handler who lives with and trains both dogs. “The excitement of the dogs is contagious. They are so excited to come out here. It’s like coming out to play every day.”
Truman and Eleanor, a point setter, have caught four pythons since December, part of an effort by FWC, the South Florida Water Management District and the National Park Service to eradicate the invasive species from natural lands.
The team is a collaboration between the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the South Florida Water Management District and the National Park Service.
Trainers use python-scented towels to familiarize the dogs with the invasive reptile’s scent. Over a month of training, including using live pythons with embedded trackers, taught the duo to ignore visual “distractions,” like other animals.
“There’s so many tools in the toolbox and we’re using them all. This is our latest tool,” FWC Chairman Rodney Barreto said during a tracking event Thursday at the Southern Glades Wildlife and Environmental Area.
“It’s a team effort to eradicate the python. … If we replumb the Everglades and there’s no native wildlife back, we have failed … ”
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Burmese Pythons in Florida
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
The Burmese python is a large nonvenomous constrictor that is an invasive species in Florida. Burmese pythons are found primarily in and around the Everglades ecosystem in south Florida where the snake represents a threat to native wildlife.
The FWC works with partners to manage Burmese pythons in a variety of ways. However, we encourage the public to get involved, too!
Removing Pythons in Florida
Pythons can be humanely killed on private lands at any time with landowner permission – no permit required- and the FWC encourages people to remove and kill pythons from private lands whenever possible.
Pythons may also be killed at any time throughout the year from 25 Wildlife Management Areas, Public Small Game Hunting Areas and Wildlife and Environmental Areas where pythons are known to exist.
There is no bag limit and pythons may be humanely killed by any means other than traps or firearms (unless provided for by specific area regulations).