Famous Indian snake hunters have been deployed to Florida to fight pythons.

The Everglades is famous for it beauty, but it has a serious problem: invasive giant snakes.

A wildlife technician holds a Burmese python. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

Burmese pythons are one of the largest species of snake on Earth. They're normally native to southeast Asia, but accidental releases and irresponsible pet owners introduced them to Florida as well.


Pythons can grow up to nearly 20 feet long and are eating native mammals and birds — even alligators and mountain lions aren't safe. What's worse, the pythons have started to breed.

For years, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and other local agencies and organizations have tried to keep the snakes contained. They've tried radio-tagging so-called Judas snakes to track down popular snake hangouts and hosting the annual Python Challenge for hunters.

Now Florida's trying out a new tactic: bringing in world-famous snake hunters from India.

Photo from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission/Facebook.

Masi Sadaiyan and Vadivel Gopal are part of the Irula tribe from India. The Irula live in Tamil Nadu, a state on the southern tip of India, and have been expert snake hunters for generations. They catch and milk cobras and other vipers, a vital step in producing life-saving anti-venom.

The University of Florida and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) brought the men to South Florida in early January to learn their secrets.

An Irula snake catcher in Chennai, India, in 2016. Photo from Arun Sankar/AFP/Getty Images.

As of this writing, Sadaiyan and Gopal have already caught 15 snakes, according to FWC.

They take a different approach than the typical biologist. Instead of focusing on sunny roads and levees — some of the snakes' favorite places to warm up — the men head for the thick brush, grass, and boulders. They're armed with only tire irons and use them to beat back tall grass while looking for subtle signs like tunnels, scat, or tracks in the sand. The biologists trail behind, accompanied by the men's two translators.

There was one point, reports the Miami Herald, where they spotted the tip of a tail sticking out from inside a vent in an old abandoned missile site. They followed the vent to find the other side, hoping to catch the snake if it escaped, only to find another different tail sticking out the other end. Over the next five hours, the men extracted four snakes, including a 16-foot-long female.

15 snakes are only a small fraction of the python population, but it's pretty great compared to other approaches.

Photo from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission/Facebook.

For comparison, about 1,000 hunters took part in last year's Python Challenge. After a month, they had only bagged 106 snakes. So two guys with tire irons catching 14 in two weeks is pretty great. But the point isn't just raw numbers, it's teaching biologists new ways to look for the snakes.

"Since the Irula have been so successful in their homeland at removing pythons, we are hoping they can teach people in Florida some of these skills," said FWC section leader Kristen Sommers.

An Irula snake hunter outside Chennai, India. Photo from Arun Sankar/AFP/Getty Images

The captured snakes are either euthanized or used for education. Sadaiyan and Gopel, for their part, seem to be having a good time.

"Coming to America is really fun and interesting, but catching all those snakes, that's why they're here," Sadaiyan said in the Miami Hearld. "They're hunters, and that's why they're here."

Sadaiyan and Gopal are expected to stay for a couple of months. So far they have been working in Key Largo and the Everglades, but they're expected to visit other areas of South Florida as well, says FWC.

Protecting the environment takes action.

Hopefully we'll continue our commitment to hard work, proactive thinking, and the protection of Florida's wild places.

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When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

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