The first time I became interested in pythons was the day I saw this chart. The year was 2016, my husband Ed and I were visiting Everglades National Park, and the ranger informed us that 98% of the small mammals were gone…Terrible!
In 2019, when I was appointed by Governor DeSantis to the Governing Board of the South Florida Water Management District, he made the SFWMD Python Elimination Program a priority. Those involved in this program hunt to remove these incredible animals. The largest caught was just under 18 feet 9 inches. So the connection? At Governor DeSantis’ announcement of this program, I met Mrs Donna Kalil. “If you ever want to go, let me know,” she said smiling in her trademark pink shirt. Just recently, on March 8, 2021, I took her up on it.
-Everglades Holiday Park, Governor DeSantis announces expansion of the SFMWD Python Elimination Program, August 8, 2019. ~Photo SFMWD.Ed and met Donna at the same place she and I met, Everglades Holiday Park. Gregarious, and easy to talk to, Ed and I felt like we’d known her for years, by the time we got to the L-28 canal -running north almost between Big Cypress Park and Water Conservation Area 3, just north of Tamiami Trail. She unlocked the gate, and we began our adventure.
My not being a hunter, not being able to even step on an ant, I was glad that if we caught a python, it would be bagged, and humanly -under strict rules- euthanized. I thought about how the first pythons released into the Everglades in the 1970s had been pets that somebody loved, pets that outgrew their terrariums. Now we have a major wildlife disaster on our hands. A disaster that could end in many of our back yards.
Ed and I grabbed the rail atop of Donna’s SUV and stared down. We looked until our eyes popped! Donna had taught us how to distinguish the shiny skin pattern of a python in the vegetation, and immediately one saw how well they are camouflaged!
It was a beautiful, very cool day and I found myself looking beyond the roadside to the gorgeous scenery. We came upon a rookery of maybe a hundred birds. -Wood storks, great egrets, anhingas, little blue herons, white egrets, great blue herons, ibis, and others I did not know. Alligators were nearby, abundant, black and shining, with their classic grins. As we slowly approached, they stayed either completely still or rushed the waters like angry bulls, branches crashing! After we went by, we could hear them grunting in the deep marsh. Cypress trees were getting their foliage and tender, light-green branches emerged against a blue-clouded sky. It was early morning and everything was just coming alive.
“Oh!” I thought, “I am supposed to be looking for pythons!” I looked at Ed, and he was glued to the levee bank like a hawk. “Thankfully, he’s with me, I thought, I am a terrible spotter!” But I had never witnessed these Everglades lands. Spectacular!
Donna was looking too. Suddenly, she jumped out of the vehicle. “Oh my gosh, she going to get one, I thought.” She gracefully came out of the woods with a huge yellow rat snake. “Just like our yard!” I yelled, snapping shots of her smiling and the snake looking very calm. I am not afraid of snakes, but 18 feet?
“She’s a snake charmer,” I said to Ed. He smiled. “Just like when she told us she ran that program of parents at the PTA.” I laughed. I was so glad Ed was with me to experience this. Our next stop was also beautiful, in the classic Everglades way. We headed south into Everglades National Park from the SFWMD S-333 structure and Old Tamiami Trail. It was exciting to see the trail as it being removed to allow more water to enter the park. Even now, the water flowed south like a river, Ed took pictures of me beaming.
The air was fresh and cool. The tall grasses and tree islands looked otherworldly waving in the afternoon light. As the clouds floated by, purples, burnt oranges, and greens took on one hue and then another. “A Monet painting,” I thought. “The Creator’s palate.” Cool winds blew, I zipped up my jacket and tightened my scarf.
“Look at the road!” I heard myself think.“Pythons, I am supposed to be looking for pythons!” Ed smiled. “This is incredible,” he said. I grabbed his hand across our station top the vehicle.
We did not find a python that day. I’m not sure if it is because it was in the 60 and 70s and the pythons couldn’t get moving, or if I missed about twenty of them. One thing is for sure, they are there. Donna is a top producer! Ed and I plan on going back out with Donna. She is looking for volunteers, so if you think you can keep your eyes on the road and off the stunning scenery contact her! ~join Donna Kalil, python huntress, on Facebook.
In the meanwhile, I will be happily remembering my day “beyond pythons.”
I. L-28 Canal between Big Cypress Preserve and Water Conservation Area 3/4. -Donna looks along the levee for pythons warming themselves in the sun II. Canal south at S-333 and Tamiami Trail, Everglades National Park
-Donna points to the an round impression in the grass from a python; she is constantly reading the environment for clues!
1.-Alligators are eaten by pythons; until now, they were the top predator. Luckily, in this video they look like they are having a very good day.
2. “Sending water south” Old Tamiami Trail!