Irula snake-catchers recruited to hunt pythons in U.S. wetland

The state of Florida in the U.S. has reached out halfway around the world to get help with its python problem.

Wildlife officials recruited Irula tribesmen from Tamil Nadu to hunt the Burmese pythons believed to be decimating native mammals in the Everglades, a wetlands preserve in the southern tip of the U.S.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission hopes that the Irula tribesmen, well-known for their snake-catching skills, will be able to track and spot the tan, splotchy snakes that all but disappear in the wetlands unless they’re basking in the sun alongside a road or canal.

“Since the Irulas have been so successful in their homeland at removing pythons, we are hoping they can teach people in Florida some of these skills,” Kristen Sommers, head of the wildlife commission’s exotic species coordination section, said. .

The Irulas have removed 13 pythons in just over a week, including four from the Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Key Largo. One of the snakes was a female measuring 16 feet long. The endangered Key Largo woodrat and many protected bird species live in Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge.

Irulas Masi Sadaiyan and Vadivel Gopal are joined in their hunt this month by dogs trained by the University of Florida and Auburn University researchers to sniff out pythons.

A year ago, the state’s public “Python Challenge” netted 106 snakes. Over 1,000 people signed up for the month-long hunt. In an average year, about 200 pythons are caught in Florida.

University of Florida’s wildlife biologist Frank Mazzotti and his team are working with the Irula tribe in south Florida. “It is outstanding that they have been able to remove pythons from Key Largo,” said Mazzotti. “And to get four pythons, including a 16-foot female, is just incredible,” Mr. Mazzoti said.

“The Irula tribesmen are world renowned for their ability to catch snakes. I heard about them through an acquaintance, Rom Whitaker, who lives in India and works with the tribesmen. He recommended that I work with the Irula to find the Burmese python in the Everglades, and five years later we finally made it happen,” Mr. Mazzoti said in a Univeristy of Florida news article. The tribesmen will spend two months in Florida, with Chennai-based herpetologist Mr. Whitaker helping with translation.

Detection dogs, trained by Auburn University, use scent profiles of pythons to help target search areas.

“Dogs are helping to identify areas where pythons are hiding, paving the way for human searchers to target that area for removal,” said researcher Christina Romagosa from the University of Florida. — AP