Python may soon be on the menu in Florida, pending safety review

Snake. The other, other white meat.

Burmese pythons may soon end up on dinner tables across Florida, pending a state review of whether they’re safe to eat, CNN reported Sunday.

An invasive species, the non-venomous constrictors have overrun, er, overwrithed South Florida since the 1980s, when it’s believed that the first specimen took to the Everglades as a released or escaped pet.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission already encourages locals to humanely kill any of the massive reptiles — among the largest snake species in the world, commonly 16 to 23 feet in the wild — that they come across.

But now all that meat could have a use, with the FWC and Florida Department of Health reviewing whether mercury levels in the snakes are low enough for human consumption.

“We are currently in the tissue-collection stage of the project, and COVID has pushed our timeline back a bit,” FWC spokeswoman Susan Neel told CNN. “The plan is to have most of these samples come from pythons that are caught by our contractor program.”

The government’s “contractor program” includes paying people for every python they bag. Officially called the Python Elimination Program, it is co-run by the FWC and South Florida Water Management District and has thus far removed more than 6,000 pythons from the Everglades, Neel said.

The goal now is to develop “consumption advisories” for the locals, Neel told the network.

Still, Mike Kirkland, the program’s manager, told CNN that snake-starved Floridians might not want to get their hopes up.

“Mercury is a natural occurring element in the environment, and it is high in the Everglades,” he said. “Mercury bioaccumulates in the environment, and you will find high levels of mercury at the top of the food chain where pythons have unfortunately positioned themselves.

“We expect the results are going to discourage the public from consuming pythons, but if we can determine that they are safe to eat, that would be very helpful to control their population.”

Mercury-free pythons are good eating, Donna Kalil, one of the program’s hunters, told CNN, noting that she likes to throw the meat into a pressure cooker or turn it into jerky.

“It’s really good when you cook it right,” she said. “This would be a wonderful way to get more people involved with helping us remove pythons from the environment. It would be a good thing for people to hunt and eat them, but we need to make sure they’re safe first.”

Kalil called pythons “magnificent creatures” but said they must be hunted for the good of native wildlife, including rabbits and raccoons.

Pythons aren’t the only reptiles running rampant in Florida, with authorities also green-lighting locals to hunt invasive iguanas.


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