Alligators are native to Florida. Burmese pythons are not … or are they?
While pinpointing the genesis of the Sunshine State’s burgeoning Burmese python population has proven elusive, it appears that at some point in the second half of the 20th century an unspecified number of imported pet pythons either escaped or were dumped into the Everglades.
First sightings date back to the 1980s.
Perhaps some recovering reptile aficionado woke up one day and resolved to trade his private constrictor collection for something a little more low maintenance. Because Al Gore hadn’t invented the Internet yet, googling “how to properly dispose of pet pythons” wasn’t an option, and so he loaded his scaly friends onto his pickup, drove them out into the Floridian wetlands, where he assumed—quite correctly, as it turns out (and to the detriment of the local mammalian fauna)—they’d feel reasonably at home, bid the slithering knot of serpents a heartfelt adieu, released them, then turned around and headed for his local pet shop to pick out a ferret.
Given that Burmese pythons have since been merrily proliferating in Florida, why are they still considered native to nowhere except Southeast Asia? What about all those Burmese pythons now born and raised stateside? Aren’t they just as native to Florida as are spoonbills, bobcats, and gators?
How many generations until an imported species effectively becomes an indigenous species on par with those that have resided at that location for centuries or millennia? How much longer until Wikipedia should, at long last, stop classifying Burmese pythons in Florida as an “invasive species” and simply start listing Florida—along with Myanmar, Malaysia, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, and a number of other Asian nations—among their native habitats?
Speaking of Florida, in the early morning of 12 June 2016, an American individual of Afghan descent named Omar Mir Seddique Mateen opened fire at a nightclub in Orlando, murdering at least 49 patrons and wounding even more, before being taken out by a SWAT team, thus raising the death toll to the number of stars on the American flag.
“This boy didn’t come from anywhere but where he lived, in the United States. This is United States terrorism,” said one of the ladies on The View in reference to the carnage the boy had wreaked.
So because Omar Mir Seddique Mateen was born and raised in the United States, he counts as a “domestic” or “home-grown” terrorist, no different from Timothy McVeigh or Dylann Roof.
But if all American-born terrorists are indeed in every respect equally domestic, regardless of when and whence their forebears splashed ashore, then how come American-born Burmese pythons are still deemed members of an “invasive species”? What makes them so fundamentally different from American-born cottonmouths or diamondbacks? And why do we persist in calling American-born pythons “Burmese pythons” rather than American pythons?
As regards humans, many ethnically sensitive thinkers believe that only Native Americans are truly native to the Americas—hence their appellation—and that, to this day, Americans of European pedigree, including those whose ancestors arrived on the Mayflower, constitute an invasive rather than a domestic species. Where does that leave mere second-generation Afghan-Americans named Omar?
Strictly speaking, of course, Native Americans aren’t native to the Americas, either, as their ancestors reportedly trekked over on foot via the latterly submerged Bering Strait from what’s now Russia. It’s all a matter of how far back one is willing to venture in attempting to define “native” or “indigenous.”
The arguably special status of Native Americans aside, are all natural-born U.S. citizens equally as American as apple pie, or might some be viewed as a bit less American than others, perhaps on account of residual allegiances to certain mores that are about as American as hara-kiri and that haven’t yet been fully superseded by a genuine affinity for baseball games and Motown tunes?
The difficulty of demarcating “native” and “domestic” from “alien” and “invasive” pertains even more prominently to Europe, which, unlike the United States, has never identified as a melting-pot of immigrants.
Exactly how “home-grown” and “domestic” are terrorist attacks on European soil launched by European citizens named Mohammad, Youssef, or Abdul, all of whose families happen to share a fairly recent migration background from Muslim Middle-Eastern or North African nations? Are those attacks just as home-grown and domestic as if they’d been carried out by European citizens named Jacques, Wolfgang, Timothy, or Anders?
The logical corollary of assuming that all crimes committed by citizens of the nation, or league of nations, in which they occur are equally home-grown is to dismiss calls for immigration restrictions or increased border security as utterly quixotic, for the enemy is already inside. The enemy is our own citizens. How can one keep Germans out of Germany, or Belgians out of Belgium? Or Americans out of the U.S., for that matter? Therefore, what would be the point of building walls or fences, literally or otherwise, if we’re under attack from the inside by “our own”?
To postulate more than one degree of domesticity and differentiate by taking into account a perpetrator’s immigration background, by contrast, makes some security challenges instantly appear quite a bit more imported than others, and the specter of admitting horses that one day may turn out to be of the Trojan variety likely alters one’s perspective on how best to meet those challenges.
It all depends, I suppose, on how American American-born Burmese pythons really are, and whether such a python snatching a toddler would be just as home-grown an attack as was that alligator snatching poor 2-year-old Lane at the Disney lagoon.