Auburn University Trains Labs to Flush Pythons in Everglades

__

Ever hear the old saw (which happens to be true, by the way) that a trained gundog is the greatest conservation tool a hunter can have? Think about that. Without a dog, just imagine how many animals you may otherwise have lost in the field, all those precious, delicious and hard-won quail, pheasants, ducks, geese, chukars, huns, ruffed grouse, sharptails, prairie chickens, Burmese pythons, African rock pythons, boa constrictors, anacondas...

Wait a second...pythons? Uh, yep. Pythons.

From this story on takepart.com:

Sometimes when man creates a huge problem that destroys the balance of the ecosystem, man's best friend must come in and sort it out. Oanow reports that Jake and Ivy, two Labradors from Alabama's Auburn University, were recently called to the swamps of Florida to find a formidable non-native species: the Burmese Python. Brought to Florida by the exotic pet trade, and set free in the Everglades, the Southeast Asian snakes are normally about 12 feet long but can reach lengths of up to 19 feet. Opportunistic eaters, pythons have all but wiped out marsh rabbits, opossums, and raccoons in the southern region of Everglades National Park, according to a nine-year study.

Terry Fischer and Craig Angle of Auburn's EcoDog program traveled to Florida to pick up samples of the species' scent and then imprinted the dogs with the essence of Burmese python. "We found the use of detection dogs to be a valuable addition to the current tools used to manage and control pythons," said Christina Romagosa, of AU's School of Forestry and Wildlife, in a press release. The dogs can detect pythons from a distance and when they spot one they stop in their tracks and crouch. The pythons' reaction is strangely poignant. Rather than striking when discovered, they curl up and hide.

"It's their first line of defense," said Melissa Miller, biological sciences doctoral student who handled the snakes. "People think when you catch a snake it's going to come back biting at you...but they see us as a predator even though they're a large snake." So far Jake and Ivy have located 19 pythons, one of which had 19 eggs.

That's pretty fascinating stuff, there. Much ink has already been spilled about Florida's python problems and in an effort to help control the snakes Florida even opened up an official python hunting season, which ended in total failure.

But the possibility of hunting giant snakes with dogs brings a whole new dimension to the upland experience, doesn't it? Is python hunting with pointing dogs the new quail? The similarities are sort of eerie, when you think about it. Quail hunting in the southeast is quickly disappearing and no one other than a few die-hard disciples seems to care, just so long as they can keep shooting their turkeys and deer. But some scientists predict pythons can and will spread beyond south Florida into those very same areas that at one time were the heart of the southern quail culture. And what do giant pythons eat? Deer and turkey (and anything else they can wrap a coil around). So if the snakes eat all the deer and turkeys, and if hunting them without dogs is futile (see above) could we someday see a resurgence in upland hunting over pointing dogs in the south, with giant pythons replacing quail as the quarry?

Granted, a python's defensive measure when found by a dog (see above) isn't quite the same as the explosion of a covey rise, but when life gives you giant reptiles, you gotta make giant reptile lemonade, right? And I'm betting a flushing python is a helluva lot easier to hit with a load of #7 1/2s than a quail, at least for the more accomplished wingshots among us.

Laugh if you will, but I think this is the next big thing. Which brings us to the question I'm dying to ask: What breed of pointing dog would be best suited to python hunting and why? Britts, pointers, setters, one of the versatile breeds? How would you want your dog trained? Steady only to slither and hiss? Or steady to slither, hiss and shot? I'll leave it to the Gun Nuts to discuss the proper python gun, but what's your ideal python dog?

*Need I mention that tongue is somewhere in the vicinity of cheek with this? Of course I do...