Two Indian snake hunters have been hired by Florida wildlife officials to get rid of Burmese pythons, which are wiping out small mammal populations driving some nearly to extinction in a tropical wetland in the US state.
Masi Sadaiyan and Vaidivel Gopal, both in their 50s, from the Irula tribe of Tamil Nadu, are successful python hunters in India, and were brought in, along with two translators, to work with detection dogs earlier this month to track down and capture the giant snakes.
In just eight days, they have surprised officals of Florida Fish and Wildlfe Conservation Commission (FWC) by bagging as many as 13 pythons, including a 16-foot-long female.
A joint endeavour of FWC and University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFS), officials have described it as a "unique project".
"Since the Irula have been so successful in their homeland at removing pythons, we are hoping they can teach people in Florida some of these skills," said Kristen Sommers, section leader of the FWC's Wildlife Impact Management Section.
"We are working with our partners to improve our ability to find and capture pythons in the wild. These projects are two of several new efforts focused on the removal of these snakes," Sommers said.
"In their first eight days on the job, the Irula tribesmen -- world-renowned snake catchers from India -- removed 13 pythons, including four on their first visit to Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge on North Key Largo in partnership with the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Traditionally, the main occupation of the Irula tribe has been catching snakes," a media release said.
Officials said they are currently working with the Irula tribesmen to identify additional programmes to remove more nonnative pythons from Florida.
The FWC and UF/IFAS have been collaborating with public land managers to identify environmentally sensitive areas that would benefit most from targeted python removal.
Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge is one such area because of the federally-endangered Key Largo woodrat and many protected bird species that reside there.
UF/IFAS wildlife biologist, Frank Mazzotti, and his team are working with the Irula tribe in South Florida, media release said.
On January 17, Irula tribesmen, UF/IFAS, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and US Geological Survey cooperators removed four Burmese pythons from the Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge.
The commission says it paid USD 68,888 to hire the Irula men and their translators and fly them to South Florida from their home in southern India. They'll stay in Florida through February.