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.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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In a North Carolina neighborhood that looks like a present-day Pleasantville, a man carries a cup of coffee and a plate of brownies out to his car. "Good mornin!" he calls cheerfully to a neighbor jogging by. As he sets his coffee cup on the hood of the car, he says, "I need to wash my car." Well, shucks. His wife enters the camera frame on the other side of the car.

So far, it's just about the most classic modern Americana scene imaginable. And then...

A horrifying "rrrrawwwww!" Blood-curdling screaming. Running. Panic. The man abandons the brownies, races to his wife's side of the car, then emerges with an animal in his hands. He holds the creature up like Rafiki holding up Simba, then yells in its face, "Oh my god! It's a bobcat! Oh my god!"

Then he hucks the bobcat across the yard with all his might.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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