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Python Destruction of Everglades May Be Overhyped

At the end of January, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published a study suggesting that Burmese pythons were decimating mammal populations in the Everglades. The numbers were shocking: a 99 percent decline in raccoon sightings, a 98 percent drop in opossum sightings, and so on. 

Reuters reported on Friday, however, that some scientists think that these statistics are severely flawed and that the study "should have never made it to the light of day," let alone into the pages of one of the world's most prestigious scientific journals. 

The study was designed to compare reported sightings of mammals -- dead and alive --  from 1993 to 1999 with similar sightings between 2003 and 2011, after the pythons had arrived. Unsurprisingly, there were fewer sightings in the later period.

Among the study's shortcomings, according to the critics, is that the researchers failed to consider other factors that could have driven down mammal sightings, including a "decade-long drought, cyclical population fluctuations, increased development and pollution."

Perhaps the most important critique is that much of the Everglades simply can't be accessed by researchers. 

Shaw Heflin, a Florida-based snake expert featured on National Geographic's Python Hunters, told Reuters that he "doesn't see anything thus far that these pythons are causing serious harm."

The article also noted that it's unclear how many of these invasive snakes are living in the 1.5-million-acre area. A spokeswoman for the Everglades National Park said there could be anywhere from a few thousand to tens of thousands. 

Even if the snakes haven't wiped out mammal populations, the fact that they're not afraid to wrangle with alligators doesn't bode well for the future of the food chain. 

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Chris Sweeney

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