The Plight of the Majestic Burmese Python

The majestic Burmese pythons are generally recognizable by their enormous size, also their dark brown blotched patterns. Unfortunately, the visually appealing skin is a prized item, making the Burmese pythons a target of hunters and poachers. The extensive poaching have now made them a threatened species. As a consequence, their numbers have dwindled in the wild, although in captivity, their numbers are thriving.  This spectacular snake is one of the most popular attractions in zoos worldwide; hence most major zoos around the world house the Burmese python. In zoos which have a warmer climate, the Burmese python can live up to thirty years.

The Burmese Python is one of the top six big snakes in the world, often they grow over twelve feet in length; eighteen feet specimens have even been recorded as well. Interestingly, a Burmese python named “Baby” lived for 27 years and reached a staggering 18 feet. This female python is the heaviest recorded python, which weighed a whopping 400 pounds.

The size of these snakes implies that they require a lot of food. A Burmese python in the wild considers almost any forest animal or bird as a potential meal. Being strictly carnivores, their diet usually consists of birds and small mammals that are usually found near the banks of waterways in jungles and swamps. They are tree hunters when young and are skilled at climbing to catch birds. As they get older and larger, they tend to hunt on the ground. It has been known that the Burmese pythons will attempt to eat prey that is bigger in size than its usual diet of birds and rodents. Although they are stealthy hunters and adept at catching prey, quite often they struggle to digest a much larger animal. It’s during this time that they are vulnerable to discovery by poachers.

The habitat of these gentle giants are wet and warm forests of Myanmar, Vietnam, Indonesia and even parts of India. They can be found throughout South East Asia — from the north-east edges of India, across Vietnam in the north, down to Indonesia in the south.  They will patrol the waterways of rivers and swamps looking to pick up easy meals such as smaller deer species and larger birds. Unlike some other big snakes which hunt after a long gap after heavy meals, the Burmese pythons are opportunist predators and will attempt to hunt if there’s a chance for an easy kill. Burmese pythons bite their prey first, and then hold on until they can position themselves to wrap their long powerful bodies around their prey. They will then constrict their prey and suffocate them. Once dead, the python will try to swallow the prey slowly.

Although native to South East Asia, many of these majestic snakes have been imported for pet markets and wildlife parks around the world. They are frequently sold in pet shops in the US, but their rapid growth rate and their huge appetite, makes them unmanageable for some of their owners. As a workaround, some of these snakes are let loose into the wild to alien forest habitats such as Florida Panhandle.

They are presently thriving in Florida, mainly due to the warm weather and plentiful prey and waterways found in the expansive Everglades. As a result, they have been declared an invasive species in Florida.  Frequently, the Burmese python have come into contact with the local alligator population in the Florida swamps,  and a battle between the two apex predators of Florida Everglades have become one of the most publicized and controversial ecological events in the United States. The coyote, panther and bird populations have been hit negatively as well. Therefore, the majestic Burmese python has become the centre of media attention for the wrong reasons. There have been sightings of Burmese pythons taking on a larger alligator and trying to swallow it only to find the meal too big to swallow. Furthermore, photographs of Burmese pythons with a split stomach bearing the tail of a half devoured alligator; abound the wildlife magazines and television channels.

If one carefully scrutinizes the reason for the plight of the animal population in Florida Everglades, one will understand that it’s not the Burmese pythons which are at fault, it’s actually the lax and unwise governmental regulations in the US, which facilitated the sale of these beautiful and gentle giants as pets to just about anyone, and these creatures were eventually left to the whims and fancies these irresponsible owners.

Therefore, the Burmese python should be handled by professionals only and nurtured in captive or native habitats which suits them and makes them one of the most captivating snake species in the world.

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