MIAMI (Reuters) - The United States announced a ban on Burmese pythons on Tuesday, after years of unsuccessful efforts to eradicate the giant snakes from the Everglades National Park in Florida.
U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who has championed the ban, said it would take effect within about 60 days and make it illegal to import the snakes or transport them across state lines.
Salazar announced the measure at a news conference at a flood control pumping station in a corner of the Everglades just outside Miami, where he was joined by Florida Senator Ben Nelson and two senior park and Florida Wildlife Commission officials as they held aloft a recently captured 13-foot (4-meter) python.
“The action were taking today is a milestone in the protection of the Everglades,” Salazar said.
Biologists say most pythons in the Everglades are thought to have been released there by their owners once they realized that the “pets” can grow from just a foot (30 cm) to 12 feet (3.6 meters) long within their first two years of life.
In addition to the Burmese python, which has become one of the most notorious invasive species in U.S. history, the ban affects the yellow anaconda and northern and southern African pythons.
Invasive species in subtropical parts of Florida include dragon-like Nile Monitor lizards and raccoon-sized African rats.
But Burmese pythons, which are native to southeast Asia, have become the stuff of legend in the Everglades since they were first sighted in the wildlife haven in the mid-1970s.
With their razor-sharp teeth, they have been known to eat practically anything that moves in the park, from small mammals to large wading birds. Last year, a 15.7-foot (4.8-meter) Burmese was found with a huge bulge from a recently consumed 76-pound (34-kg) deer.
Compounding eradication problems, however, the bone-crushing snakes have also bred in the wild in the savanna and steamy swamps of the Everglades.
One of the creatures was aggressive enough to try devouring a 6-foot (1.8 meter) alligator in the park in 2005. The alligator was believed to have been dead already and the snake also died trying to digest it.
Reporting by Tom Brown; Editing by Sandra Maler