Bomb-Sniffing Dogs Could Help Control Everglades Python Invasion

Scientists say the trained dogs could help control the national park's population of Burmese pythons, an invasive species

By Sam Schulz
|  Tuesday, May 1, 2012  |  Updated 2:51 PM EDT
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Invasive Burmese pythons are becoming increasingly prevalent in the Everglades — but scientists at Auburn University in Alabama suggest their bomb-sniffing dogs could help control them.

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South Florida has found a new weapon in its ongoing battle with a Burmese python invasion: Bomb-sniffing dogs.

A test of the dogs' python-detecting abilities in Everglades National Park found that the special "EcoDogs" could root out pythons more than twice as fast as people could, Reuters reported.

The specialized dogs are part of a collaboration between several departments of Auburn University in Alabama, and according to Todd Steury, a scientist who co-founded the project, some of the dogs aren't temperamentally suited to searching indoors for bombs.

Luckily, he said, they do a bang-up job of finding the scents of ecological targets, according to Reuters.

Two of the dogs, Ivy and Jake, were set loose in Everglades National Park so the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers could see how good they were at sniffing out the invasive pythons.

The result: A 75 to 92 percent success rate, and 19 pythons trapped — including a pregnant snake with 19 eggs, Reuters reported.

An Everglades spokeswoman said the python problem is so out of control that park officials don't expect the dogs to eradicate it completely — but they do think the dogs could prevent a further spread.

Auburn biologist Christina Romagosa said the dogs could also give park officials a better idea of the geographical range of the pythons, according to Reuters.

The python problem has plagued the Everglades for years.

In January, a report found that in areas where the invasive python population had grown, the populations of small mammals — like raccoons, possums, white-tailed deer and bobcats — had plummeted.

Around the same time, federal and state officials banned the importation of Burmese pythons — plus other non-native snakes — to the Everglades due to the threat they posed to native populations.

According to Reuters, the python problem is probably due to irresponsible dumping of pet snakes by their owners as well as to the ravages of Hurricane Andrew, which destroyed an exotic snake warehouse and let loose its occupants.

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