Python lacks microchip but officials are still looking for its owner
Wildlife officials still hope to find the owner of a 14-foot Burmese python that was dragged this weekend from a storm drain in Bradenton, but their job was made more difficult on Monday: A scan of the python found no microchip that would identify the owner. Gary Morse, a spokesman with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said wildlife investigators will ask questions and try to find the original owner. Morse said it becomes more difficult to locate someone with a snake that was not microchipped. But someone might have information that can help investigators, he said. "It is unlikely that someone would have a snake that large and neighbors and acquaintances would not know it," Morse said. "Somebody knows something." Trapper Justin Matthews, who found the snake, said he has named the snake Sweetie because it was found near a Sweet Bay supermarket."I wish it would have been microchipped to find out where it came from," said Matthews, owner of Matthews Wildlife Rescue. Matthews said if an owner could have been found, the misdemeanor charge could have served as a deterrent for people setting pythons free, he said. "If it would have had a microchip in it they could have made an example of whoever released it or let it get away," Matthews said. He is going to keep the python for educational purposes to teach how big it can grow and how aggressive pythons are.Morse said he is positive the python was a pet. It was in great condition and appeared to have been well fed, Morse said. If it had grown in the wild, other predators would have gotten to it before it grew so large, Morse said. "This didn't come from the wild," Morse said. "There is no way. It is highly unlikely." Burmese pythons are a reptile of concern, and owners are required to have a permit to have one. That means owners must have adequate caging and know how to care for it and keep it safely from the public. The permits require the owner to place a microchip into the snakes, Morse said. The chip, when scanned, has a number that reveals the legal owner of the snake, he said. Owning a python without a permit is a second-degree misdemeanor. He said the commission wants to find out where the snake came from, whether it was released by an owner or if it escaped. Permitted owners must have cages that are approved by wildlife inspectors who occasionally visit homes to check on the snakes, he said "The laws are absolutely sufficient to protect the public," Morse said. "The problem comes when people think they are above the law and their rights exceed the rights of being responsible to their fellow citizens." Burmese pythons generally don't pose a huge threat to people, he said. "They are considered to be docile snakes. But it's still a huge problem for the environment and a significant problem for people's pets." Pythons are not a Florida native species but are popular among snake owners. They can grow to more than 25 feet and are constrictors, killing prey by wrapping themselves around it and squeezing. There are about 450 licensees possessing reptiles of concern and/or venomous reptiles in Florida, state records say. Earlier this month, attention focused on Burmese pythons when a 9-foot-long pet albino python escaped its cage and slithered into the room of a 2-year-old girl in Sumter County. The snake wrapped itself around the toddler and suffocated her. The case is under investigation. No charges have been filed, authorities said. The incident sparked a national debate, and Florida Sen. Bill Nelson used the incident to push his bill to outlaw importation and transportation across state lines of pythons. The species is establishing itself in the Florida Everglades as owners who can't take care of them set them free in the swamps of South Florida. A python hunt that lasts until the end of October is under way to find and catch pythons in the Everglades. Over the past several years, more than 350 pythons have been captured or killed in the Everglades. Since the state sanctioned hunt began 10 days ago, four pythons have been captured, according to wildlife commission spokeswoman Patricia Behnke. "Three hatchlings were caught over the weekend," she said Monday afternoon. The areas being searched are in Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties. Ten herpetologists around the state have been issued permits for the python hunt, she said, and they go out on weekends. "Most," she said, "have regular day jobs."
Tampa Tribune reporter José Patiño Girona and News Channel 8 reporter Josh Thomas contributed to this report. Reporter Keith Morelli can be reached at (813) 259-7760.