Tennessee python discovery causes concern

Larry Woody • Updated Jul 31, 2013 at 8:27 AM

The discovery of a 10-foot python in the Land Between the Lakes has raised concerns about the release of unwanted pets in LBL and other natural areas around the state.

In Florida the release of pythons, anacondas, giant lizards and other reptile species into the wild has created an environmental disaster. The reptiles have found the Florida habitat ideal, and their numbers have exploded. Example: an 18-foot female Burmese python captured in the Everglades carried 87 eggs.

In some areas of Florida, native species are on a decline due to predation by the invasive snakes. A large python or anaconda can easily kill and consume mid-sized animals and birds, and in one case a huge snake was found to have swallowed a young deer.

The reptiles have no natural enemies and are extremely difficult to trap or hunt because of the rugged habitat. Once they infest an area they are virtually impossible to control.

Tennessee wildlife officials are not overly concerned about a similar python explosion here because that species of snake cannot endure cold winters -- or at least they aren’t believed to be able to.

But snakes and reptiles aren’t the only invasive species that can cause problems when introduced into the wild. Tennessee’s wild hog problem was created in part by hunters releasing hogs into new areas in order to establish huntable populations. (The original wild hog stocking was done by the TWRA, which it now admits was a mistake.)

Once introduced, the prolific hogs quickly grew out of control.

In almost every case in which humans have introduced a foreign species into a new area it has created problems – all the way back to English sparrows and Asian carp.

Land Between the Lakes is a 180,000-acre area that lies between the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers and overlaps the Tennessee/Kentucky border.  Most of the land encompasses a Wildlife Management Area that provides hunting and other outdoor recreational opportunities for thousands of visitors annually.

Unfortunately, some of those visitors leave behind an array of animals ranging from dogs and cats to goats and horses and the recently-discovered python.

Wildlife officials say those people probably think they are doing such unwanted animals a kindness by releasing them. But it is virtually impossible for domesticated animals to survive very long in the wild. Releasing them usually results in starvation.

Meanwhile they create serious problems for the area’s visitors. Feral dogs and cats often become diseased and vicious, and hungry horses and goats have been known to wander into roads, creating traffic hazards.

The recently-discovered python was captured and removed from the area. Had it remained on the loose, it would have preyed on native wildlife and potentially been a threat to any pets or children who stumbled upon it.

The snake would have simply been trying to survive; the blame for its damage – and for damage done by other feral animals -- would lie with whoever turned it loose.

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