The Everglades, the “river of grass” in Central Florida that serves so many vital functions for the Sunshine State, is in mortal danger.
Environmentalists and conscientious state officials have fought greedy developers and powerful sugar companies to carve out enough acreage for its hundreds of species of birds and wildlife to thrive in this unique ecosystem—and oh, yes, the water that flows through it to the Biscayne Aquifer is the major source of drinking water for South Florida.
Here’s how UNESCO describes this World Heritage Site:
Everglades National Park is the largest designated sub-tropical wilderness reserve on the North American continent… It contains the largest mangrove ecosystem in the Western Hemisphere, the largest continuous stand of sawgrass prairie and the most significant breeding ground for wading birds in North America.
And the National Park Service waxes poetic:
Everglades National Park is a subtle place where earth, water, and sky blend in a low green landscape; where mere inches of elevation produce distinct changes in vegetation; and where a great wealth of birds and other wildlife find refuge. For this is almost exclusively a biological park dedicated to the preservation of a complex and precisely ordered living mechanism… Over 36 threatened or endangered animal species reside in Everglades National Park…
Now the entire ecosystem is under its biggest threat ever from the Burmese python, a monstrous snake not indigenous to the region–to say the least!– that can run up to 20 feet long. It eats everything in sight and its only natural enemy is the very large alligator or cold weather. Smaller alligators are just a banquet to this voracious eater, which has taken up residence amid the twists and turns of the Everglades’ endless waterways.
That’s why the state of Florida issued a “Python Challenge.” A thousand python hunters descended on the Everglades to bring Second Amendment solutions to the python problem.
But the snake proved an elusive prey. As the New York Daily News reported:
The tan, splotchy pythons have natural camouflage that gives them an important advantage in the ecosystem they have invaded…”They blend in naturally to where you can’t hardly see them,” said state wildlife commissioner Ron Bergeron…
Result: only 41 pythons have been caught so far. I hesitate to write this, but there may be tens of thousands of them living and breeding in the Everglades’ marshes and mangroves. That’s why in some areas, wildlife sightings are down 99%. God only knows how we’re going to root them out.
Whose fault is all this? The snake’s? Hardly. You see, people—to be more precise, stupid people—adopted these wild creatures as pets. And though federal and Florida law prohibits their importation for that purpose, people bought them anyway. So, when the snakes got so big they could eat Rover or Fluffy or even the newborn sleeping in the crib, these idiots said “duh” and got rid of them—in the Everglades.
But this is just a symptom of a much bigger problem.
As human beings dominate the planet—there are now seven billion of us—we necessarily encroach on more and more areas that used to belong to wildlife.
Our basic needs and even our whims and vanities (shark fin soup, elephant tusks, pet snakes) have destroyed the lives and habitats of hundreds, maybe thousands of species. And the climate change created by our own endless quest for comfort will only make things worse.
So, if you want to see the monster that’s killing the Everglades, don’t go hunting for the Burmese python. Take a look in the mirror.