Ever since the 1980s, Florida’s wildlife population in the Everglades has been devastated by a deadly predator – the Burmese python. The serpent, which is not a native to the region but escaped into the Everglades about 25 years ago, has become an apex predator of the region. So numerous and successful are the snakes that from 2003 to 2011, researchers recorded a 90 percent drop in sightings of raccoons, opossums and white-tailed deer in the region. In one infamous case, a Burmese python even took out the previous top predator of the Everglades, an alligator!
For years, wildlife authorities have struggled to contain the threat posed by the giant constrictors, but to no avail. They tried everything – and we mean everything:
Snake-sniffing dogs: once again proving that the dog truly is man’s best friend, even when we train them to do stuff we’d never dream of doing ourselves.
Radio-tagged informant snakes: yes, stool-pigeon snakes are a thing. And, by the way, they’re often referred to as “Judas snakes”.
Hunting bounties: the true American way – when you can’t do it yourself, outsource, outsource, outsource.
Finally, having exhausted every option, they called in the big guns.
Enter Masi Sadaiyan and Vadivel Gopal, two members of the Irula tribe from Tamil Nadu. The Irula tribe is traditionally famed for their snake-tracking abilities and make a living capturing poisonous snakes to extract anti-venom which they then sell to hospitals. When python researcher, Frank Mazzotti, of the University of Florida heard about them he knew he had found the experts he’d been waiting for all this time. The two men were invited to the Everglades where they caught 30 pythons in four weeks. Yes, you read that right. To put this in perspective, last year 1,000 trained hunters could only capture about 100 pythons. The year before? 68.
“Masi and Vadivel are doing an incredible job,” Mazzotti said to the BBC. “All they need is a glint of snake and they pounce. The rest of us are usually wondering where the snake is. Next thing, we see they are holding it.”
Since arriving in Florida in early January, the two men – both in their 50s – have headed into the dense Everglades almost every day. Their wild success presents perhaps one of the best arguments for why we in India ought to be doing our best to protect our traditions.
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