16-foot python captured in the Everglades — nearly record size

 – Miami Herald

A 16-foot Burmese python — one of Florida’s largest ever — was found in the Everglades on Sunday morning.

Everglades conservationist Ron Bergeron retrieved the 165-pound snake from beneath a home in Possum Head Camp. Bergeron, who calls himself “Alligator Ron,” removed the 16-foot, 1-inch female snake along with its nearly 50 hatching eggs.

Brian Van Landingham and Frank Branca, two men in the camp, spotted the python and called Bergeron, who was filming an educational video in Alligator Alley four miles north. Bergeron hopped onto his airboat and traveled to the scene. About one-third of python eggs mature to adulthood.

The python was just short of the 17-foot snake discovered in Cypress National Preserve in April, the longest found in the preserve. But Sunday’s catch was 25 pounds heavier than April’s record-setting python.

“It’s not normal that they’re on a nest and we’re able to remove all their eggs, too,” Bergeron said. “So this was a real great day for the Everglades because we were able to remove about 50 snakes.”

Burmese pythons are considered an invasive species, and conservationists have been removing them since they first started popping up in the Everglades in the 1980s, when people began importing the snakes from Southeast Asia as pets, according to CBS News.

When the pet owners realized they couldn’t take care of the pythons — one of the five largest snake species on Earth — they released the pythons into the Everglades. The population of snakes exploded in 1992 when Hurricane Andrew ripped the roof off of a breeding facility in South Miami-Dade and many escaped.

Since, Burmese pythons have been found devouring wildlife throughout South Florida, disturbing the natural food chain.

“They’re actually eating possums, raccoon, rabbits, even bobcats,” Bergeron said. Burmese pythons have been caught swallowing a deer, and even a 7-foot alligator, whole.

Researchers estimate that there are upwards of 30,000 pythons in the Everglades, based on 2014 estimates. In March 2017, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) Governing Board launched the Python Elimination Project, working with python hunters to reduce the number of invasive snakes in the region. As of July 1, 2,112 pythons have been removed through the project. Only 11 of those snakes have measured 16 feet or more.

In South Florida, the pythons typically measure 8 to 10 feet, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). In their native habitat, they sometimes surpass 20 feet, National Geographic reports.

Bergeron, an eighth-generation Gladesman, was appointed to the SFWMD Governing Board recently as Gov. Ron DeSantis revealed a $625 million spending plan on environmental issues, $360 million of which is to be directed to Everglades projects. Currently, Bergeron is working with DeSantis on a plan to increase access to harder to reach areas of the Everglades, including northern areas going toward Alligator Alley.

“With the governor’s leadership, the FWC, South Florida Water Management and Everglades National Park, we’re going to continue to put this plan together and put more pressure on the pythons,” Bergeron said. “I’ve spent most of my life trying to save the Everglades so it’s a great honor for me.”