Spring 2013

[Alumni News]

Cheryl Millett

Heading Off South Florida’s Python Invasion

Would you know what to do if you found a 17-foot long Burmese python in your backyard?

In south Florida, Cheryl Millett (’05, M.S. Wildlife) is telling residents to “snap a photo, then call the Python Patrol.” She heads a program started by the Nature Conservancy in 2008 to contain the spread of Burmese pythons around the Everglades, where their numbers have reached 100,000 in recent years.

The public-private partnership uses a combination of first-responder training and citizen reporting to contain the invasive species, which officials say is the result of escaped or abandoned pets.

Millett manages a training program for wildlife professionals and law enforcement officials in southern Florida on how to safely and humanely capture the pythons. Common techniques include distracting the snake while a second person grabs it, and pulling the python back by the tail so it thinks it’s getting away. She also oversees a public information campaign in south Florida that includes a website, mobile app and toll-free number for citizen sightings.

“We want people to know they can help deal with the problem of Burmese pythons and other invasive exotic animals in Florida even if the idea of the recently found 17- foot by 7-inch Burmese python in the Everglades gives them the heebie-jeebies,” Millett says.

As a graduate student, Millett had many opportunities to conduct wildlife research. For one project, she helped research and monitor the threatened Pacific Coast snowy plover population with Biology professor Mark Colwell. That position helped her get a job with the Nature Conservancy after graduating from HSU, where she coordinated a citizen science program to monitor the threatened Florida scrub jay.

South Florida’s Python Patrol incorporates a similar public education program. Because Burmese pythons are so pervasive, Millett wants to ensure that the public is knowledgeable as possible about the reptiles.

People often ask her what happens to a snake once it’s been captured. Depending on the Nature Conservancy’s needs, they are either used for training or research, Millet says. “It’s a win-win for everybody, because we remove the snakes and we also get to better understand them through our research.”