As It Happens

Snake hunters from India help nab unwanted pythons in Florida

Two Irula snake trackers from India come to Florida and quickly become the best python hunters the Sunshine State has ever seen.
Vadivel Gopal, an Irula snake catcher from India, with a 13-foot python he nabbed in Florida. (Janaki Lenin)

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They came all the way from India to Florida with one purpose: to hunt and capture as many pythons as possible.

And now the two members of an ancient tribe known as the Irula have quickly become the best snake hunters Florida has ever seen.

Masi Sadaiyan and Vadivel Gopal with their first python caught in Florida. (Janaki Lenin)

Vadivel Gopal and Masi Sadaiyan came to Florida as part of an ongoing effort to control the explosion in the python population in the Everglades National Park and beyond.

Pythons typically empty their bowels when they are caught, when they are frightened . . . there can be literally gallons of stuff.- Janaki Lenin

Writer, filmmaker and conservationist Janaki Lenin has been accompanying the two men and documenting their python hunt.

Janaki Lenin is an Indian writer, filmmaker and conservationist. (Janaki Lenin)

She tells As It Happens guest host Helen Mann that the once-nomadic Irula tribe has a connection to snakes that is centuries-old.

JANAKI LENIN: We do know that the Irula have a history of catching snakes for the snakeskin industry through the 1800s . . . up until 1972 when India banned the export of snakeskins. And because we live in a very hot country, these guys are literally tracking snakes on hard clay soil and they are reading tracks like bushmen would in the Kalahari. That's how fine-tuned they are. And we do not know of any other people in the world who would track snakes like that.

Masi Sadaiyan and Vadivel Gopal examining a snake track in Florida. (Janaki Lenin)

HELEN MANN: How would they deal with the risks this entails?

JL: Well, in India they catch venomous snakes for milking them for the production of anti-venom serum. So actually this is not that dangerous.

HM: I understand it can be messy work, if the snake decides to struggle? 

JL: Yeah, it is. Pythons typically empty their bowels when they are caught, when they are frightened. And with a small snake, you don't think much of it. But if you're catching a large python, there can be literally gallons of stuff and it's very smelly . . . and you know there's been some jokes about who's allowed in the van after a python catch.

Masi Sadaiyan and Vadivel Gopal with Ed Metzger and Joe Wasilewski of the University of Florida. (Janaki Lenin)
HM: What do they make of being occasionally covered in snake excrement?

JL: Masi — one of our hunters — said, "You know, you can't be bothered about snake faeces. If you get worried like that, you won't catch any snakes." And he kind of very dramatically took a pinch of the yellow stuff from his shirt and put it on his forehead, as if blessing himself.

Masi Sadaiyan looking for pythons in Florida. (Janaki Lenin)

HM: What do these two Irula tribesmen think of being in Florida?

JL: They say they're very happy to be here and they've never had anyone give them free reign and say, "Here go and catch as many snakes as you can." Because in India tracking snakes is very regulated and is based on strict licensing . . . Here it's the opposite. I mean, there are regulations, but the goal is to catch as many pythons as you can.

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