2009-08-19 / Opinion

Time to move on?

by Alex McRae

I've lived in the South all my life and can't think of anywhere else I'd rather be. You won't find a better place or better people anywhere on Earth.

I've seen other parts of the world and visited well over half of the lower 48 states. Never saw a place where I didn't find something or someone to like. But I've never considered leaving the place I'll always call home.

Until now. Maybe.

I'm not thinking about moving because I'm unhappy with the people. Won't happen. The heat and humidity? It's my birthright. And I certainly wouldn't leave because of politics. That's a mess no matter where you live.

No, I'd only move if I felt my personal safety — and the safety of those I love — was threatened. And right now, that threat is becoming more real every day. Not because of criminals. Because of critters.

When fox hunters brought coyotes across the Mississippi River decades ago, I never thought I'd live to see one. I've lived long enough to be annoyed by them. Same goes for armadillos, which all Southerners agree are about as welcome as jock itch. And about as useful.

But those beasts can be dealt with easily. As long as you can pull a trigger.

The animal that worries me enough to consider calling U-Haul is one that still hasn't arrived in Georgia but creeps closer every day — the Burmese python.

Yes, I know the South isn't Burma. In fact, the South is not even legally considered a zoo for exotic wildlife. But in recent years, the Burmese python has appeared with disturbing frequency in south Florida.

You expect nutty things from Florida. Weirdness is almost the state industry. But this is taking things too far. The most recent Burmese python capture occurred on the grounds of an animal hospital just north of Lake Okeechobee.

In another setting, the snake — except for its gaudy paint job — might have been mistaken for a telephone pole. Mostly because it was 17 feet, 2 inches long, and weighed over 200 pounds.

It was spotted by Corey Surls, 11, whose uncle owns the animal hospital. Corey is clearly a smart kid. When he spotted the serpent, he was with a cousin, which is why Corey never felt endangered.

Corey told a Palm Beach TV station, "I was on the other side of the fence, so I knew it was going to get him first."

A 17 foot snake in the Deep South? If you phoned that one in to 911 a few years ago, you would have been featured on a TV show alongside victims of UFO abductions.

Wildlife experts say the Burmese giants were introduced to south Florida over a decade ago. They were dumped by dealers or abandoned by people who bought them as pets but decided to "release" them once small animals and children started disappearing from the neighborhood.

The creatures thrived in the Everglades. The Burmese python population is now estimated at over 10,000. That's bad. It gets worse. The snakes are moving farther north each year.

According to Mapquest, Okeechobee, Fla., is 540 miles from my front door. If a snake can travel a mile a day, it could be at my house in less than two years, even with a leisurely stop at Disney World.

No thanks. Carpetbaggers were bad, but this is ridiculous. If Burmese pythons cross the Georgia state line, so will I ... headed in the opposite direction, which, in this case, is due north.

Hard as it might be for a Southerner to adjust, I'd much rather live with Yankees than Burmese pythons. Even those from south Burma.

(Send your e-mail comments to: alex@ newnan.com.)

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