When Florida wildlife leaders effectively declared “open season” on iguanas, they called for the animals to be killed on private property. And just this week, they doubled down on python eradication. Both animals are considered invasive species in Florida, but recent and past issues with how the animals have been killed has led to accusations of animal cruelty. The state says all killings have to be done “humanely”. But, what does that actually mean?
In April, wildlife researchers in the Everglades landed a record. A 17-foot-long, 140 pound pregnant female python, and her 73 eggs.
Pythons have been causing chaos in South Florida for years now. They’re long-livers, prolific reproducers, and they’re huge. They can eat almost anything, including mid-sized mammals, and they do. Several years ago, the state okayed the hunting and killing of pythons in the Everglades. Now, it’s expanding eradication efforts:
"We're gonna increase the pressure on a snake that is actually destroying all of our natural food chain in the beautiful Everglades," conservationist and developer Ron Bergeron said during a recent press conference with Gov. Ron DeSantis in South Florida. Bergeron, known as "Alligator Ron" is a member of the South Florida Water Management District, and previously served on the Florida Wildlife Commission.
DeSantis recently announced expanded python eradication effots, including allowing the animal to be killed at any state park where they're found.
The snakes aren’t the only animal on the state’s hit-list. In June, the FWC announced iguana’s can now be
killed on private property. Shortly after, reports of people abusing the animals emerged—including a video posted on Instagram that shows people being cheered on by bystanders as they run over and slam iguanas with a grocery cart.
FWC sent out updated directives, condemning animal abuse, noting that it was investigating the video and stating that iguanas must be killed humanely, but the agency didn't spell out how that's done.
“That’s one of our objections to these orders, because reptiles have a unique physiology," said People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals' Lori Kettler. "They’re very tolerant of conditions that result in lower oxygen and blood pressure levels. So it’s imperative when you kill a reptile that the brain is destroyed immediately. If it isn’t, they can continue to sense pain for up to an hour.”
Kettler acknowledges Florida's invasive species problem, and the need for removal. But she takes issue with the lack of instruction given with such kill orders. There’s a definite wrong way to kill pythons and iguanas. There’s also the right way:
“The only non-conditional methods of euthanasia approved for reptiles….is the use of a penetrating captive bolt gun or gunshot to the brain. And even with those two methods, people have to be properly trained about placement," she says.
The FWC has noted that people not trained to handle the animals should seek help from those that are. Still, Kettler and others would prefer no animal be killed and she says Florida’s invasive species problem is a people problem. After all, iguanas and pythons didn’t bring themselves to the state.
“The wild populations are the result of escapes and releases into the wild. So one question PETA has with the commission is that, a few years ago they banned the private possession of pythons. Why haven’t they done so with iguanas?”
The United States banned the import and sale of Burmese Pythons in 2012, and the state has its own bans on the pythons, along with lionfish and other invasive species. But there’s no such bar on iguana sales. The FWC says a ban on the reptile now would come too late-- because the species is already established in Florida.