MIAMI, FL (CBS4) - Pythons have been getting a lot of attention lately. The snakes have spread across South Florida, and the nuisance has lead to a ban which has spiked a campaign from those in favor and those against the reptiles who are not native to Florida.
Some groups are grateful for the ban, which begins in late March, others feel it will not do anything but create unnecessary panic.
Pythons are hard to find, tough to capture and impossible to control. Proof can be seen in pictures obtained by CBS4 across South Florida of python sightings: from a farm in Homestead, to an African python found south of Bird Road, to one found in Kendall and another in Miramar. The pictures taken by various trappers and government agencies uncover a new reality: snakes are popping up across south Florida.
"We don't know if it's tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands," said Eric Stienmetz, with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, who patrols for pythons in the Keys.
The mangrove swamp area provides endless pathways where pythons can move freely and eventually spread across even more urban areas. Under a watch for almost ten years by government agencies, the python population has grown.
New numbers from Everglades National Park show that in 2002, it stood at about 20, in 2006 it jumped to around 175 pythons captured, it peaked in 2009 at about 375 and then dropped in 2010 to 325.
Besides being a nuisance, studies show pythons have proven to be damaging to our eco-system.
"They eat our local deer, hogs, raccoon, possums, the key largo wood rat," said Steinmetz.
If not properly fed, they can also pose a danger to people and pets.
A scenario that is all to familiar to the Moore family in Key Largo.
"Next thing I know, my wife is shaking me and said John, John, get up, get up. What's wrong? What's wrong," said John Moore.
He awoke to find a snake slither onto his couch in his docked house boat.
"I saw a python with its head looking at the cat and the cat was looking at it. It looked like it was going to get it at any time," said Moore.
The cat survived and the snake got away. Further north, off Biscayne Blvd. and 71st street, a snake was discovered just this month in the yard of a house in the upper east side of Miami.
Professionals with Expert Wildlife Trappers Inc. are responding to more snake calls from unsuspecting families worried for their safety.
"If a snake gets inside the house, they don't know how to handle it," said Osmar Silva, owner of Expert Wildlife Trappers.
Maps also show that the snakes are spreading.
Tracking from the website, www.Eddmaps.org shows hundreds of reported incidents across Florida.
To help control the population, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission now has a hotline, 1-888-Ive-got1.
"The goal is to be able to find exotic wildlife out in the environment and to be able to respond and take them out of the environment," said Jenny Ketterlin Eckles, a biologist with FWC.
The group www.SavetheBurms.org addresses the overpopulation. They work closely with FWC to find homes for pythons.
"If someone wants to get rid of the animals, we have to provide a home for them it is necessary," said Matthew Passman.
People have had them for pets for years. According to experts, the secret to maintaining a healthy python is to properly feed it. By doing so, you ensure the python will not go on the attack for food. Gathering food is the main reason why experts say pythons become aggressive. Pythons are believed to have escaped into the wild for two reasons: people may have released them after not realizing how to take care of them, and Hurricane Andrew in 1992. The storm may have done damage to pet shops in its path, sending snakes to roam free in the Everglades.
So with hundreds of acres of Everglades, extermination is not an option, according to experts.
"They are very good at hiding. Even a 16 foot snake can disappear in the saw grass," said Ketterlin Eckles.
Experts feel we need to make policies for proper management of a majestic species which is thriving in the Florida landscape.
"They are going to reproduce faster. We are going to have more of them," said Steinmetz.