Have you ever heard of python-hunting dogs? Pythons are usually a threat to almost all beings, even pets, because they are “constrictors”, and can kill if a living being is unfortunate enough to get caught in their coils. For many ages, dogs have almost always been overwhelmed when it comes to encounters with pythons and other large constrictors.
But not two special Labradors, Jake and Ivy, who were trained as python hunters in the Everglades.
Burmese Pythons were released by irresponsible owners in Florida’s Everglades National Park in years past, and have become a very serious problem to the natural ecological balance. As stated in an article on Field and Stream Magazine’s website:
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….
Christina Romagosa, a researcher at Auburn University, said she was proud of the two labs who “definitely knew what they were doing” in the university’s Eco Dog detection program. It is a multi-agency project.
These specially trained snake-hunting dogs were trained for months, most of which involving them taking swimming lessons and learning to approach their targets safely. In November of 2010, they were assigned to the Everglades for the job. Their scores: 19 pythons, around six to eight feet in length, and a pregnant python carrying 19 eggs. Now that’s some achievement!
Compared to humans, python-hunting dogs are actually around 2 and a half times more accurate in hunting down pythons, and at least 2 times faster than a human detection team comprising of about 2 to 6 members. Humans can only rely on their visions to look for these very still snakes, but dogs can sniff them out with their excellent sense of smell. There are various techniques that are taught to these python-hunting dogs, many of which are similar to endurance and strength training programs for professional athletes.
For the dogs to hunt down pythons, of course, they have to learn their smell. Some coffee filters with python scents have been their training objects, followed by pythons that are inside bags. Later on at University of Florida, they encountered real pythons, which are, of course, in enclosures to protect them. And last, off they went to Everglades for some more python training and the actual hunting of radio tagged pythons. In fact, Romagosa was even surprised when the dogs told them they found a snake, and Romagosa did not notice that it was right below her, near her feet, according to the radio signal.
Other stuff they need to learn when in training includes things that can break up the scent signals, such as wind currents and large objects such as trees. They were also trained for both short and tall grass, and to stay in safer zones when attempting to track and hunt down pythons for their own safety, which is around 15 meters away from the snake. And afterwards, they are rewarded with goodies and treats for their hard work, to let them know that they did well.
Some of the snakes that were caught were euthanized and some were turned over to a National Park Service biologist for research. There are some snakes that were tagged with radio devices for studying, and some were given to The Nature Conservancy for training on snake catching.
Unfortunately, since the dogs didn’t find any more pythons, Todd Steury, the co-founder of Auburn University’s Canine Detection Research was not pleased, and so the program ended with the dogs returning to Auburn.
I don’t know about you, but I think Mr. Steury should have been highly pleased — it sounds like they achieved excellent results, especially for a pilot program. If they found 19, there are probably several dozen — if not a few hundred — more spread throughout the ‘Glades. I’m willing to bet this will become a serious problem again soon, and that a permanent program will most likely have to be established so that they will always have trained python-hunting dogs available when needed.
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