By Tim Tetzlaff, Director of Conservation
Big Cypress National Preserve began a scout snake tracking program in 2017. After veterinarians surgically implant transmitters, biologists track them to gain useful information to reduce the population of these invasive species over time. More immediately, however, these few “double agent” snakes connect with many more pythons, who are removed to reduce the overall impact on native wildlife.
One of these scout snakes recently consumed something large and Big Cypress biologist Matthew McCollister contacted Naples Zoo about taking radiographs to confirm what was inside. The next morning, June 10, Naples Zoo’s veterinarian, Dr. Kelsie Stovall, and Director of Conservation Tim Tetzlaff set out with the portable digital radiography machine to x-ray this living snake in the field. Accompanied by Chief of Resource Management Tony Pernas and wildlife biologist Deborah Jansen, McCollister led the team to a willow stand where the 150-pound python was digesting her meal.
After locating the snake in a willow stand through the transmitter, McCollister calmly secured and covered the head of the python while the rest of the team helped move the coils into position over the x-ray plate while Dr. Stovall prepared the screen and x-ray generator. All went smoothly for python and team as the radiographs confirmed a deer fawn inside the snake. Deer hooves have been found in many pythons along with everything from raccoons and alligators to wading birds and even bobcats. Pythons are taking meals away from native predators, placing additional pressures on the ecosystem and causing significant declines in wildlife populations – converting our native wildlife into more and more pythons. This makes scientific efforts like this all the more critical to address the issues.
Naples Zoo has a Zoo-Park Partnership for America’s Keystone Wildlife™ with Big Cypress National Preserve and collaborates on efforts like this to benefit the park and its wildlife as well as educate the public. The Big Cypress scout snake program was initiated with encouragement from the Conservancy of Southwest Florida that Naples Zoo has been partnering with for years on invasive Burmese python research and removal efforts to help our local wildlife. You can read more about the Conservancy's work in the book Tracking Pythons by Kate Messner.
To learn more about the zoo’s conservation work with partner organizations, visit www.napleszoo.org/conserve.