Pythons have grown in number in Florida and is proving to be a menace to the population of smaller mammals.
Pythons might be considered a scary predator to many but it could soon become a delicacy in Florida. Scientists in Florida are looking to see if Burmese pythons are safe to eat. The highly invasive species has doesn't hail from the region but was introduced to Everglades in the 1980s as an escaped or released pet. The Burmese python, a nonvenomous constrictor, has now become a threat to the native wildlife in the region. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is collaborating with the Florida Department of Health to determine if the mercury levels in pythons are okay to be safely consumed. If the scientists declare them safe for consumption, pythons could find their way into restaurant menus across the state. "It is early on in the process for the mercury study. We are currently in the tissue collection stage of the project, and Coronavirus has pushed our timeline back a bit," said wildlife commission spokeswoman Susan Neel, reported CNN. "The plan is to have most of these samples come from pythons that are caught by our contractor program." Authorities said the objective of the study is to develop and share "consumption advisories for Burmese pythons in South Florida to better inform the public."
The population of rabbits and raccoons and possums have drastically fallen in the Everglades as a result of pythons feeding on them and authorities hope to reduce the python population that's at the top of the food chain in the region. "Mercury is a natural occurring element in the environment and it is high in the Everglades," said Mike Kirkland, the Python Elimination Program manager. "Mercury bioaccumulates in the environment and you will find high levels of mercury at the top of the food chain where pythons have unfortunately positioned themselves." Kirkland believes potentially positive results from the study could help reduce the constrictors in the state. "We expect the results are going to discourage the public from consuming pythons, but if we can determine that they are safe to eat, that would be very helpful to control their population," said Mike Kirkland.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission also looks at it as a way of reducing the pythons in the region and protecting wildlife in south Florida, where they are mostly found. The FWC has also encouraged locals to kill pythons as part of the 'Python Challenge' hunt and also encouraged members of the community to call them if sighted. FWC has granted permission to residents to kill them at any time of the year but is advised to kill them as humanly as possible. The South Florida Water Management District, which is funding the mercury study, also led the Python Elimination Program. More than 6,000 pythons have been removed from the Everglades as part of the program.
Donna Kalil, a serial python hunter from the Python Elimination Program, said python meat is quite delicious and often turns them into jerky. Donna Kalil is also the first female hunter in the python removal program and has captured and euthanized 473 pythons. Kalil makes it a point to use a mercury testing kit to confirm they're safe to eat. She pressure cooks them to make the meat tender, before adding pasta sauce, chili, or stir fry it. "It's really good when you cook it right," said Kalil. "This would be a wonderful way to get more people involved with helping us remove pythons from the environment. It would be a good thing for people to hunt and eat them but we need to make sure they're safe first." As much as she loves reptiles, Kalil believes they pose a serious threat to wildlife. "We have a severe python problem, which began when irresponsible pet owners released them into the wild and they've basically eaten all the native mammals down in Everglades National Park," said Kalil.