Python Sniffing Dogs Florida’s Latest Weapons in the Fight Against Invasive Snakes

The first catch of a dog team? An 8-foot male python in Miami-Dade County.

For decades, pythons have been identified in Florida as one of the largest and most engaging invasive species, drastically affecting the populations of many native species and permanently altering the ecosystem since they were first introduced into the wild.

But now the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) has a new weapon in controlling populations of threats to the region’s wildlife – Truman’s black labrador and Eleanor are the scorer.

Duncan and Eleanor are the two biggest stars of the FWC’s new Detector Dog Team. Their job? Hunt down and help their handler remove Burmese pythons from the wild.

According to the FWC, detector dogs are not new and have been trained in the past, from bedbugs to sea turtle nests. However, Burmese pythons can still be the biggest challenge.

Truman and Eleanor spent more than a month training and learned how to look for pythons using scents and how they warned their handlers when they found pythons.

“Python-scented towels and live python with surgically implanted trackers have been used to train dogs in python-scented training,” the FWC said in a statement announcing the new detector team of dogs. “Dogs have also been trained to ignore distractions, such as other live animals when working in an outdoor environment, and have worked to build their endurance so they don’t get tired easily in the field.”

Following their training schedule, Truman and Eleanor now go out five days a week with a handler and an FWC biologist to look for pythons in various parts of southern Florida.

“Pythons compete with native wildlife for food that includes mammals, birds, and other reptiles,” the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) said on their website. “A severe decline in mammals in the Everglades National Park is linked to Burmese pythons.”

According to the USGS, a 2012 study found that the raccoon population had declined by 99.3% since 1997, opossums by 98.9%, and bobsleighs by 87.5%. “Swamp rabbits, rabbits and foxes have virtually disappeared,” the USGS said. “The most significantly declining mammals have been regularly found in the stomachs of Burmese pythons removed from the Everglades National Park and Florida elsewhere.”

The FWC Detector Dog Team is the arsenal’s latest tool in the fight against the growing python population in Florida. However, the work they do can be risky.

“When Truman or Eleanor catches the smell of python, they follow that smell until approx. They are 3 meters from the python. When a snake is found, the dogs alert the handler and reward them with appreciative responses. The dog and handler then step back from the environment, clearing the way for the FWC biologist to pinpoint the exact location so they can safely grab and remove the python from the wild, ”the FWC said.

In Florida, pits are not required to kill pythons, and invasive species can be humanely killed in private areas at any time with the permission of the landowner, and the FWC encourages people to remove and kill pythons from individuals except using traps or firearms. whenever possible.

For now, however, Duncan and Eleanor are working and didn’t even have to wait long for their first big success.

The FWC said, “2020. On December 8, the FWC Detector Dog Team committed its first triumph by successfully capturing and removing an 8-meter male python at the Rocky Glades Public Small Hunting Area in Miami-Dade County. ”