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USDA to Try Out Python Traps in Everglades

Sep 26, 2013 04:35 PM EDT

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has received a patent for a trap specifically designed to capture pythons, The Associated Press reports.

The long, thin cage with a net on one end represents a desperate attempt to combat the Burmese python infestation playing out in the Florida Everglades. The infestation began in 1992 following Hurricane Andrew, which is believed to have resulted in either the intentional or accidental release of the creatures that apparently were being kept as pets.

More than a decade later, their numbers are estimated in the tens of thousands, The Nature Conservancy reports.

Native to India and other parts of Asia, Burmese pythons are voracious and indiscriminate eaters: as of 2010, as many as 25 different bird species, including the endangered wood stork, had been found in the digest tracts of pythons living in the Everglades.

In 2012, a sharp, eight-year decline was detected in a variety of mammals in the region, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences -- a fall the researchers were able to clearly correlate to the pythons.

Meanwhile, efforts such as massive public hunts, radio tracking colors and snake-sniffing dogs have all failed to remediate the situation. Now, wildlife officials are working against the clock more than ever in an attempt to control the python population before it can undermine efforts to restore natural water flow through the area, the AP reports.

"There's still more to be learned, there's still more to be tested," John Humphrey, a biologist at the National Wildlife Research Center, told the news outlet regarding the new traps. "This is just one of your tools that you have to put together with other things to get the problem solved."

According to the AP, officials will try baiting the traps with the scent of small mammals and camouflaging them as pipes or other small spaces pythons enjoy.

In the end, says Carli Segelson, a conservation commission spokeswoman, "[The traps] may be something that if it doesn't work for the python, it may work for other species."

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