(FloridaToday.com) - Burmese pythons slithering their way toward Brevard swallow up native species whole, rendering the exotic snake Public Enemy No. 1 to Florida's wetland ecosystems.
But pythons and other exotic escapees will get amnesty Saturday at Wickham Park — and likely new homes with those who want the pets others can't or won't care for.
"There's nothing that's going to stop them," Penny McDonald, an associate professor of biology at Eastern Florida State College, said of the python's destructive path through the Sunshine State.
Burmese pythons are already creating ecological damage in the Everglades.
As with the exotic lionfish, biologists are learning that the snakes can tolerate lower temperatures than they'd first hoped, enabling the reptilian invaders' to spread farther north in Florida. Salty waters don't seem to slow them much, either.
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So to help keep such invaders at bay, Florida wildlife officials will hold an Exotic Pet Amnesty Day this Saturday at the Wickham Park Pavilion.
The free event is the first of its kind that the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has held in Brevard County. Eastern Florida State College's wildlife club is sponsoring the event, expected to bring in some of Brevard's most notorious ecological invaders — no questions asked.
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"It's geared toward anyone with an exotic pet that they can't care for now," said Liz Barraco, who coordinates FWC's exotic pet amnesty days. "Generally, we see animals that are really easy for people to purchase."
Such creatures include pond turtles, iguanas and exotic birds. Other times, the unexpected arrives. In Broward County in 2012, someone dropped off a South American coati — a hog-nosed raccoon-like mammal.
Almost all the exotic pets go to pre-approved adopters, except for the very sickest of animals. Rarely, those must be euthanized.
Owners wishing to get rid of exotic pets can call FWC throughout the year, but the special amnesty days speed up the process, which otherwise can take months.
Foreclosures, health problems or the animal living longer than expected are among the most common reasons owners cite for needing to get rid of their exotic pet. But often a new home for the animal proves elusive. Some dump them in the wild. "It's illegal to release a non-native species in Florida," Barraco said.
Many exotic animals lack natural predators in Florida, so they can overwhelm native species.
Lionfish spread slowly after their initial 1985 introduction to state waters. But by 2000, the fish had reached much of the east coast of Florida and Gulf of Mexico, dominating reefs. Nobody knows for certain when lionfish came roaring into the Indian River Lagoon, but in 2010, two Florida Tech students spotted several inside Sebastian Inlet. Since then, the ferocious fish have turned up inside Port Canaveral. It also has been seen around lagoon seawalls, pilings and worst of all — mangroves, a key nursery for prized grouper, snapper and other commercial significant species.
FWC will accept only exotic pets during Saturday's event, not dogs, cats or any other domesticatedanimals.
A federal study in 2012 found that even pint-sized python babies can withstand water as salty as the lagoon for up to five months. No one knows how long the big ones can last.
Reptiles, in general, have poor salinity tolerance, so it was hoped that salt water would naturally hinder pythons' ability to expand beyond the Everglades. But even ocean water isn't salty enough to blunt the Burmese python's slither through Florida, according to the study by the the U.S. Geological Survey.
The snakes are thought already to have reachedwell north of Everglades National Park. "We're seeing some more sightings in Naples," Barraco, of FWC, said. There also have been recent sightings in Palm Beach County, she said.
Maybe some will turn up at Saturday's event, which includes live animal exhibits and educational displays.
"I would be really happy if we get at least 50 animals surrendered," McDonald said.
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