Florida is host to many beautiful attractions including its beaches, theme parks, space centers, old towns, Miami and the Keys. However, the Everglades is one attraction that is bigger than them all (literally) and a must-see for nature enthusiasts. These giant wetlands stretch from Orlando to the Florida Bay, covering approximately 1.5 millions acres of land. It is the largest subtropical wetland ecosystem in North America.
The Everglades is home to an abundance of animals and plants such as egrets, mangroves and saw grass, giving the Everglades its nickname, ‘River of Grass.’ It is also inhabited by over 67 endangered species, including the manatee, Florida panther and the American crocodile. It is the only place in the world where alligators and crocodiles co-exist.
Like the rainforests and oceans, the Everglades is the key to survival for these animals and a huge factor in the balance of Florida’s ecosystem. In fact, one in every three Floridians (7 million people) relies on the Everglades for their water supply. It is a beautiful place full of parks, camping grounds and nature reservations that are visited all year-round by people from all over the world. One of the most exciting ways to view the Everglades, if you haven’t done so already, is by airboat.
Over the years, humans and hurricanes have tampered with the Everglades’ rivers and saw grass. However, the recent threat is far greater than it has ever been. The non-native Burmese python has managed to become a menace to Florida’s ecosystem, but not without the help of humans. Scientists believe that these reptiles originally began as house pets but were released into the Everglades by owners who could not care for them anymore. During hurricane Andrew, pythons escaped from a breeding facility, also contributing to the population boom.
Unfortunately, these pythons are no ordinary snakes. They can grow to be more than 12 feet in size – 17 feet is the largest on record so far in Florida! Burmese pythons eat larger animals such as rabbits and poultry. Pythons in the Everglades have grown so large that they have been known to eat deer and alligator. These serpents are single-handedly unbalancing the food chain in the River of Grass. They are the kings of the jungle, the lions of the Everglades. One of the saddest problems we now face is the python’s unquenchable thirst for feasting on endangered species.
In hope to reduce the python population, the Everglades called for the first ‘Python Challenge’ at the beginning of 2013. Prizes included $1,500 to whoever bagged the most Burmese pythons and $1,000 to the person who caught the longest one. Efforts by 1,500 hunters brought in only 50 pythons by the end of the challenge. With their excellent natural camouflage, these reptiles were not easy to spot. It is not yet known if there will be a 2014 Everglades Python Challenge, but evidence suggests it is absolutely necessary to control the python population if we want nature in the Everglades to stay balanced.
This is not an issue that will be resolved over night, but it’s great to know that efforts are being made to control the python problem. Humans are the reason that these unnatural occurrences happened in the first place, so we must be the ones to put a stop to it if we want the Everglades to remain a “for-Everglades.”
Are you brave enough to join next year’s Python Challenge?
- Original article published in ISFoundation.com.
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