MIAMI, Florida (CBS4) - Florida has the worst problem in the world when it comes to non-native amphibians and reptiles.
"This should concern everyone on the planet," said Joe Wasilewski, a
local biologist. As he explained to CBS4's Special Contributor Ron
Magill of Zoo Miami, "The truth is they're here."
The Burmese python has become the poster child for invasive species
in South Florida. And though it receives the overwhelming majority of
attention when it comes to non-native species taking up residence in our
local communities, it is just the tip of the iceberg.
"Exotic wildlife doesn't have enemies. They reproduce at an alarming
rate. They could go off the charts and that's exactly what's happening
here in South Florida," Wasilewski told Magill.
Wasilewski has been working with wildlife in South Florida for more than 40 years.
"If you would've asked me that seven years ago that I could go out
and catch pythons and iguanas, I would say you are crazy," exclaimed the
Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission has tracked more than 400
non-native species of fish and wildlife plus more than one-thousand
exotic plants around the state.
So how did these invaders get here? In most cases these exotic animals either escaped or were released by their pet owners.
Florida has sub-tropical climate that is very conducive for many
different wildlife for many different wildlife to live in the wild or in
your local park or backyard.
The Cuban Toad Frog, also referred to as the Marine Toad... the Cane
Toad can grow to the size of a small dinner plate. Initially introduced
from Central and South America in the 50's, it becomes the dominant
amphibian in whatever habitat it occurs, forcing out native toads.
In addition, it presents a potentially fatal threat to pet dogs that
instinctively bite it as it is hoping around the yard. When bitten, the
toad excretes a toxic substance from two glands located behind its head.
Once it gets into the dogs mouth, if left untreated, it can be deadly.
Other threats include exotic lizards like Nile Monitors, Tokay Gekos,
Green Iguanas, black and white Tegus and Spiny-tailed lizards...
compared to our native lizards... they are larger, stronger and more
In the water, the American Crocodile is native to Florida but what
worries the experts is this Nile Crocodile. This baby Nile was caught in
"Multitudes of Nile Crocodiles can certainly impact their whole
population, in fact, we do know that they could hybridise, which would
be a scary thing. The Nile Crocodile in its native continent of Africa
are man-eaters. Let's face it. It could happen.
Most exotic animals simply don't make good pets and many times people don't realize that until it's too late
We were there as Fish and Wildlife officials tracked down this
Pouched Rat from Gambia. It looks like a rat on steroids. This is a
smaller one but this rat can grow up to 3-feet long and weigh almost
nine pounds. It was originally introduced to the Florida Keys around the
year 2000, when it's believed a local breeder released several into the
environment. The Gambian Pouched Rat is a serious threat to our local
"If they were to make it to the mainland around Homestead, Redlands
area where we have a lot of agriculture, they could pose a big threat to
those industries," explained Jenny Eckles of the Florida Fish and
Next stop for these rats... they will be euthanized.
Exotic birds are also making a very expensive mark all around us... all you have to do is look up.
At power lines Monk Parakeets like to build these nests, their large
communal nests around utility lines and transformers. Those nests
will frequently cause damage to that equipment. In some cases they've
led to fires and power outages.
Mike Spoor is Vice-President of Florida Power & Light. He told
Magill, this is a problem engineers have been battling for the last ten
years. "These Monk Parakeets alone have created 2.3 million minutes of
interruption time for our customers."
Although these invaders present the threat of disease and
environmental damage. There is also a huge price to pay. The U.S. spends
$130 billion a year trying to control exotic animals and South
Florida is front and center in that fight.