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Auburn Canines Help in Search for Everglades’ Pythons

Date: 2/8/2012 4:06 pm

Detection dogs trained by Auburn University were used to find Burmese pythons in Everglades National Park during a recent study on ways to manage and eradicate these nonnative, invasive snakes.

Precipitous declines in formerly common mammals in Everglades National Park have been linked to the presence of invasive Burmese pythons, according to a study published Jan. 30 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study, the first to document the ecological impacts of this invasive species, strongly supports that animal communities in this 1.5-million-acre park have been markedly altered by the introduction of pythons within 11 years of their establishment as an invasive species.  Mid-sized mammals are the most dramatically affected.

The most severe declines, including a nearly complete disappearance of raccoons, rabbits and opossums, have occurred in the remote southernmost regions of the park, where pythons have been established the longest.  In this area, populations of raccoons dropped 99.3 percent, opossums 98.9 percent and bobcats 87.5 percent.  Marsh and cottontail rabbits, as well as foxes, were not seen at all.

"Pythons are wreaking havoc on one of America's most beautiful, treasured and naturally bountiful ecosystems," said U.S. Geological Survey director Marcia McNutt. "Right now, the only hope to halt further python invasion into new areas is swift, decisive, and deliberate human action."

Canines Jake and Ivy, both black Labrador retrievers in Auburn’s EcoDogs program, helped researchers capture 19 pythons, most being 6 to 8 feet in length, including a pregnant one with 19 viable eggs. Burmese pythons in their native range in Southeast Asia have been known to reach up to 20 feet and weigh almost 200 pounds. The National Park Service has counted 1,825 Burmese pythons that have been caught in and around Everglades National Park since 2000.

The Auburn study found the use of detection dogs to be a valuable complement to current search and trapping methods used to manage and control pythons.

EcoDogs is a partnership between the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences and the College of Veterinary Medicine’s Animal Health and Performance Program. In the Everglades, Bart Rogers of the College of Veterinary Medicine trained and operated EcoDogs Jake and Ivy.

On Jan. 23, 2012, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published a rule in The Federal Register that will ban the importation and interstate transportation of four nonnative constrictor snakes (Burmese python, northern and southern African pythons, and the yellow anaconda) that threaten the Everglades and other sensitive ecosystems. These snakes are being listed as injurious species under the Lacey Act.

Media Contacts: Tara Lanier, (334) 844-3698, tara.lanier@auburn.edu

Charles Martin (334) 844-9999, marticd@auburn.edu

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