Pet python kills Florida toddler

MIAMI Wed Jul 1, 2009 7:09pm EDT

An albino Burmese python sleeps in its cage at a reptile exhibition in Irun, Basque April 29, 2006. REUTERS/file

An albino Burmese python sleeps in its cage at a reptile exhibition in Irun, Basque April 29, 2006.

Credit: Reuters/file

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MIAMI (Reuters) - A Florida toddler was strangled on Wednesday by a 12-foot (3.6-meter) albino Burmese python that escaped from a holding tank in the girl's home, authorities said.

The pet's owner, a boyfriend of the child's mother, found the python on top of the 2-year-old girl in the rural community of Oxford, about 50 miles northwest of Orlando.

The python apparently broke free in the night, entered the girl's bedroom and attacked her.

"This is very rare," Patricia Behnke of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission told reporters.

The owner stabbed the snake when he found it on the child but she was dead when emergency crews arrived, the Orlando Sentinel newspaper said. It said he was being questioned and could face child endangerment charges.

Wildlife officials are increasingly concerned about the proliferation of non-native pythons in Florida's wilderness areas.

State officials say there may be as many as 150,000 Burmese pythons, which are native to Southeast Asia, living in the wild in the Everglades, where they have no natural predator.

Wildlife experts say the population grew from snakes dumped in the fragile wetlands by pet owners who no longer wanted them and pose a significant threat to native species.

The pythons can grow to more than 16 feet, live for 30 years and eat wading birds and small animals. Experts say snake enthusiasts buy them when they are small but cannot handle them when they grow to full size.

Florida Senator Bill Nelson introduced a bill in the U.S. Congress in February to ban the importation and interstate trade of the reptiles.

(Reporting by Jim Loney; Editing by Tom Brown and John O'Callaghan)

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