MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. - The 911 dispatcher called Venom 1 with a doozie on Friday afternoon: a snake's fat tail, possibly 12-inches in diameter, was wiggling beneath a shipping container on the property of a Homestead homeowner.
But Lt. Scott Mullin, of Miami-Dade Fire-Rescue's Venom Response Bureau, was not near the homeowner's farm and asked Miami-Dade firefighters from Station 60 to handle the call until he could get there.
The serpent was the suspected predator after several of the caller's chickens, goats and pet cats disappeared from the farm in the 22000 block of Southwest 264th Street, west of Krome Avenue near the Everglades.
"Their first impression was, if they didn't grab it by the tail, it would get away," Mullin said of the call about a female Burmese python. The snake is non-venomous, but can kill by constriction and has a powerful, 100-tooth bite.
"So they grabbed it," Mullin said. "Firefighters do what they've got to do."
The responders held on to the non-business end of the snake until Mullin arrived, when he helped them pull the 3- or 4-year-old, 11-foot python from a hole beneath the shipping container that farmers use to store equipment.
"It had just eaten a big chicken and had a full belly and couldn't get down into a hole," Mullin said.
How did he know the snake, a non-native species, was the culprit behind the disappearing livestock?
"It regurgitated the chicken at our feet," Mullin said. "They do that to get thinner so they can escape."
Mullin was happy with Friday's catch.
"We've had multiple calls in the past couple of years but often by the time we get there, the snakes have run off," he said.
Pythons venture from the wild swamp to the rustic edges of Homestead and nearby communities because the pickings are plentiful.
"They want easy prey, and a farm on the edge of the Everglades is like a McDonald's in the desert: an oasis of fast food," Mullin said. "This farmer had lost pets too and in this case, the chicken had been taken off its nest."
South Floridians may soon get a close-up view of this python on their TV screens: Mullin said the homeowner had already been interviewed by a crew from Animal Planet's "Swamp Wars." Coincidentally, Monday night the network was to air an episode from last season about the Venom 1 team.
The python is not a species protected by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission. Larry Connor, a biological scientist, says the state allows the snakes to be killed if found on private property.
"A machete or .22 work very well," Connor said, "as does a Buick if you see one on Krome Avenue."
Only state-permitted hunters can kill pythons in Florida wildlife management areas, Connor said.
"If you do dispatch one, call the I've Got One hotline at 888-483-4681," Connor said, or put the information on http://myfwc.com/contact/report/report-pythons.
The Venom Response Bureau educates responders and the public about venomous local and invasive species but, more important, says it maintains the largest and only anti-venom bank for public use in the nation. It responds to bites 24 hours a day, seven days a week, anywhere in the world.
"We've gotten calls from Iraq," Mullin said. "The furthest we've delivered anti-venom was Canada. Last month, we treated a Duke University student. She was bitten in the rainforest of Ecuador and was [flown] here for treatment."
The serpent caught Friday will no longer be a predator. Rather, she is to become a performer in Venom 1's public education programs.
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