Special Report: Georgia's giant pythons

Giant imported snakes have become a huge problem in Southern Florida, and scientists say their population is growing quickly, endangering the ecosystem.

But could 10 or 20 foot long exotic snakes be slithering into our region? Believe it or not, they are already here.

This 12 foot long Burmese python was found wild in South Georgia near the Notchaway Creek.

"It's a big snake. And he could do some damage if he's hungry,"  said Chehaw Park Executive Director Doug Porter.

Notchaway is now his name. Tom Seegmueller found the snake and took it to Chehaw, where he has become a prized exhibit. It's believed he was someone's exotic pet, that was thrown out.

"You decide you don't want them anymore, you let them go. They end up wreaking havoc on the ecosystem. Eating the native animals. There is nothing here to prey on them," said Chehaw Assistant Zoo Curator Ben Roberts.

That is what has happened in South Florida. Many pythons escaped in 1992 during Hurricane Andrew, have grown in population now estimated in the thousands. Scientists for years have studied if these giants could be slithering north into South Georgia. ...where Notchaway proves they can survive in this climate.

A small child would be prey for a giant pythons like Notchaway. They bite their prey and kill it by constricting,  squeezing them to death. Holding the python you can feel that power.

"You can feel the weight. You can feel him pull as he moves. He'll pull all those muscles in one direction, and it's pretty cool," Roberts said.

But experts agree an encounter with a python in the wild could be a nightmare, and the only animal that could stand up to them would be a large alligator. Fortunately scientists and experts agree the threat of them multiplying in South Georgia is slight.

"But in our area you'd have to have an awful lot of these running around out in the wild for them to be able to breed, find food, and create a sustainable population,"  Porter said.

In South Florida that problem is exploding. But experts say the colder winters of South Georgia should stop the python northern migration, but those here now could breed.

"Who's to say they couldn't adapt if there were enough of them here. If they were born here they night find a way to adapt," Porter said.

University of Georgia herpetologist Whit Gibbons, who has studied these pythons agrees the chances of snake migration is small, for now. What we don't know is; how many pythons may be released by people who either lose them or just set the free.

Notchaway has grown about two feet in length since he came to Chehaw. He weighs about 60 pounds, and is fed a live rabbit every three months.

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