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Wednesday, 05 March 2008 00:00

The politics of python invasions

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By David Curtis

Just when you thought you had enough to worry about here comes a news report that’s right out of a bad Hollywood B movie — the giant snakes are coming.

As a parent of teenaged daughters, one who is about to go off to college, I have plenty to worry about. Well, I have plenty to be thankful for as well. Yes, my wife and I have been blessed with good jobs, wonderful children, health and a comfortable warm home, but I am still the consummate worrier.

So, here a couple of weeks ago I turn to page two of the Asheville Citizen-Times and there was an article written by USA TODAY reporter Elizabeth Weise titled “Warming U.S. climate nurtures bigger snakes.”

OK, that headline got my attention, so as I started to read the article it goes on to describe how, due to global warming, the climate in the southern one-third of the United States is now prime habitat for giant Burmese pythons. Damn it Al, how come you never mentioned giant snakes in “An Inconvenient Truth?”

Rising ocean levels, flooding in New York and Florida, that I can live with, but giant Burmese pythons — 20 feet long, weighing 250 pounds — now that grabs my attention and spurs me into carbon sequestering.

Back to Ms. Weise’s article: she reports that the pythons are highly adaptable to new environments and are of particular concern to federal officials who report that exotic snakes are often dumped into the wild by people who can no longer care for them as pets.

Gordon Rodda, a U.S. Geologic Survey zoologist who was a lead researcher on the project, is quoted in Ms. Weise’s article saying, “They (the snakes) are moving northward, there’s no question.” The article has a map of the continental U.S. showing where the giant snakes could likely inhabit.

The map of North Carolina shows anything east of Winston-Salem is a YES — good habitat for giant Burmese pythons. The most disturbing section of the map, to me, is an area along the Tennessee North Carolina state line — which would include part of Haywood County — that is a resounding MAYBE for habitation.

“Haywood County 911. How can I help you?”

“Yes, we’re down here at the Welcome Center on I-40, we’re from Ohio and we’re traveling to Maggie Valley to visit Ghost Town and we had to stop here at the restroom you know, and Jimmy, that’s my boy you know, had to use the bathroom and me and momma needed to stretch our legs ...”

“Sir, how can I help you? This is an emergency line.”

“Oh ya, sorry, well we stopped and while momma and I were enjoying the scenery you guys have down here, say you don’t know any good realtors do you? Anyway, back to Jimmy, well he jumped out of the car and ran towards the restroom cause he had to go really bad you know and this giant Burmese python slithered out between two trucks and ate him. Well, not entirely, he’s only about half swall’erd and I didn’t renew my OnStar, so I called you guys.”

“Sir, we have a DOT vehicle assistance truck in the area, we’ll dispatch him to your location. They carry all the necessary equipment, paper towels and what not, don’t worry it happens all the time. Sir, I would also add Wheels Through Time to your itinerary, I hear they’re real nice. I hope your stay in Haywood County will be a pleasant one.”

It’s as if there’s not enough to worry about, the looming economic recession, the stock market recording four consecutive months of losses, higher gas prices with the prediction that they could reach $4 by this summer, a daughter going off to college (just great, N.C. State is prime giant Burmese python habitat; maybe App State is not such a bad choice after all), and how can we concentrate on this upcoming presidential election?

Brit Hume: “Welcome to this third in a series of presidential debates sponsored by FOX News. Tonight we are honored to host the first ever, joint party debates. Let’s welcome on the Democrat side Sens. Clinton and Obama, and on the Republican side Sen. John McCain.”

Hume: “As you know the questions from tonight’s debate are compiled from phone calls from actual voters from across the country. The first question comes from Don of Ohio, he called in earlier from Maggie Valley, N.C., and is directing his questions to all three senators — here’s the question. ‘If elected president, how will you deal with the influx of giant Burmese pythons that will inhabit the lower one-third of the country?’ Senator Clinton we will start with you.”

Sen. Clinton: “Thank you Brit for asking me to go first. I like to be first because I will be ready DAY ONE to be your commander and chief to deal with problems that face this great nation. I have the experience to lead this nation and have been tested and tried and know deep down in my heart (tears welling up in eyes) the fear, uncertainty and disgust giant Burmese pythons elicit in the voters, I have been there myself. I promise you that if I’m your nominee and elected president I will work tirelessly on this problem. As we speak I have appointed Bill to lead an exploratory commission to address this issue.”

Sen. Obama: “Another typical response from my opponent. Where’s the hope in that, another failed and out of touch response just like her vote for the war in Iraq. I’ll bring you hope Don from Ohio. The hope is in affordable health care for all Americans. The hope is in replacing NAFTA with a program that supports the American worker. The hope is in a sound environmental policy that will stop global warming. The hope is in change, positive change that, like a big stick, will beat down the snakes of cynicism, and doubt and uncertainty. I am your big stick Don, I am your hope.”

Sen. McCain: First let me say I’m sorry if I have offended anyone. Friends, Don, friends, my opponents on the other side of the fence see things differently. They see a big snake and I see an opportunity to fix a weak immigration policy. We must first and foremost secure our borders from the south and by preventing the surge of illegal immigration we will also discourage an influx of giant Burmese pythons from illegally entering this great nation. I’m from Arizona I know snakes; my opponents are from New York and Illinois — no snakes there. I’m your man, let’s win this war, secure our borders and not believe what you read in the New York Times.”

Hume: “Thank you senators. Just a side note here, Gov. Huckabee could not be with us tonight, he’s back home in Arkansas. It seems one of the family’s dogs turned up missing and the governor is home searching. More on that later. Next question from Ben in New York, ‘Given the fragile state of the U.S. economy due to the mortgage crisis, uncertainty in the stock market and the devalued dollar worldwide, could the mental breakdown of Brittany Spears send us over the edge tumbling into a recession?’ Senator Clinton, we will start with you ...”

(David Curtis is a middle school teacher who lives in Haywood County.)

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