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THE TRUMAN SHOW: Detector dogs sniff out invasive Florida snakes

A python-sniffing black Labrador retriever named Truman recently tracked down his first snake in a new program Florida is using to eradicate the invasive species.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission recently began training Truman and another dog named Eleanor to detect a python’s scent and alert handlers when they’ve come across one. The first success was early this month when Truman found a 2.4-metre Burmese python in the Rocky Glades Public Small Game Hunting Area in Miami-Dade County.

“We’ve got to stay innovative. We’ve got to try new approaches and the detector dogs are just one area where we’re doing that,” says commission executive director Eric Sutton.

“They’re hard workers… They really are very dedicated, and you can see that they’re very proud and they should be,” Sutton adds.

Estimated to number between 100,000 and 300,000, pythons have become a threat to the fragile Florida Everglades ecosystem as they devour native mammals and birds, disrupting the natural balance of predator and prey. They’ve been successful at reproducing in the swampy Everglades because they have no predators. Females can lay up to 100 eggs.

Trainers use python-scented towels and live pythons with surgically implanted trackers to teach the dogs to pick up a snake’s scent. The dogs were trained for more than a month before going out in the wild, according to the agency’s website.

And while Burmese pythons have been known to eat small alligators and small deer, Truman and Eleanor are trained to stay about a metre away from the reptiles.

The battle to contain the pythons in the Everglades and nearby areas has been a difficult one for Florida and the government has made increasing eradication efforts a budget priority, including using drones to track down the snakes.

Sutton says snake hunters hired by the state have captured about 6,300 pythons over the last four years.

Dog handler Paula Ziadi, instructs Truman, after he tracked down a python earlier this month in Miami-Dade County, Fla. (Photo – Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission via AP)


First published at Travel Industry Today

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