KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. – In his 37 years as an alarm technician at Kennedy Space Center, Steve Nauman has seen all kinds of animals — alligators, boars and of course, snakes.
“Water mocassins, rattlesnakes are common,” Nauman laughed. “But nothing that large.”
What Nauman found this week on KSC property was a Burmese python. Wildlife officials are trying to determine whether it’s the first found in the wild in that area.
Nauman said he and his partner were heading to the south end of the space center, driving slowly in the dark on Kennedy Parkway, when he saw what he thought at first was an old two-by-four up ahead.
“I made a split decision to run over it, but right before I hit it, I saw the markings on it and I thought ‘snake,’” Nauman said.
Nauman said he backed up over the snake and could see the markings better. He knew about Burmese pythons — he knew the snakes were a problem in the Everglades, and he had learned about them from a show on television.
“When I saw the sheer size of it, I figured it was a python,” Nauman said. “Security thought we were punking them.”
Florida has been grappling with invasive Burmese pythons in southern regions for decades. Stories of how the snakes established a population in South Florida have been linked to Hurricane Andrew and a breeding facility.
What is known is that the snakes have few predators in the wild, have been known to prey on native birds, deer and even alligators. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Burmese pythons have been expanding to the north and west of the Everglades.
Snakes found further north than South Florida, however, are generally thought to have been pets that were released or had escaped.
People who are allowed to keep Burmese pythons have to have the animals microchipped, according to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
As one would imagine, news of a Burmese python in Kennedy Space Center attracted quite a crowd.
Before long, Nauman said five or six security vehicles pulled up. Electricians and other co-workers showed up to check the snake out, too. The snake by then had slithered off to the side of the road, but it was barely moving.
Nauman left to do a job, but he came back a short time later at the request of U.S. Fish and Wildlife. Kennedy Space Center property is part of the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge, and FWS manages the refuge.
“FWS was concerned it might get away,” Nauman said. “So they asked me to go back and mark it so they could find it in the morning. I said I didn’t think it would survive the morning, with the gators out there and everything.”
Nauman said the snake was dead by the time he got back to drop a pin locator for FWS. That’s when an FWS worker pulled up. They checked the sex of the snake (it was male), and they decided to measure it. The snake was 10.5 feet long.
The largest Burmese python found in the wild in Florida was 18 feet long.
The FWC and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released the following statement Friday:
On October 24, a dead, nonnative Burmese python was found at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, on Kennedy Space Center property managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. USFWS biologists removed the snake and coordinated with biologists from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) to pick up the python and perform a necropsy. Initial necropsy results show that the snake’s injuries were consistent with a vehicle strike. The snake did not have an identifying microchip. At this time, we do not know how the snake arrived at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission
People can report sightings of Burmese pythons to the FWC’s Exotic Species Reporting Hotline at: 888-IVE-GOT1.
FWC also wants to remind people if they have a nonnative pet they can no longer care for, they should contact FWC’s Exotic Pet Amnesty Program, rather than letting them loose.
You can listen to every episode of Florida’s Fourth Estate in the media player below: