Is Zika Still A Problem In Our State?

There’s no doubt about it: Zika is on the retreat in the Americas.

In Brazil, cases are down by 95 percent from last year. Across the Caribbean, outbreaks have subsided. And in Florida, the virus seems to have gone into hiding. Health officials haven’t investigated a new Zika case for more than 45 days in Miami-Dade County.

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lifted the last travel warning for southern Florida. The agency is no longer recommending that pregnant women avoid the region.

“That’s really exciting news,” says Dr. Christine Curry, an OB-GYN at the University of Miami and Jackson Memorial Hospital. “Everybody has sort of exhaled.”

But the threat to pregnant women, whether residents or travelers, isn’t over — not in the least — Curry says, neither in Florida nor abroad.

So what should pregnant women and their families, or women who are trying to get pregnant, do? Let’s start with Florida. Then we’ll swing back to the international question at the end.

Living or traveling in South Florida

“We can’t go back to the days before Zika, where you just walked around without thinking about bug spray or the clothes you’re wearing,” Curry says. “People still need to practice good mosquito-bite prevention when they’re living in South Florida or traveling there.”

The CDC outlines the precautions needed in Miami-Dade County and other areas of the U.S. where Zika has circulated, such as Brownsville, Texas.

These precautions are most important for pregnant women, those trying to get pregnant and their mates. For example:

  • Expectant couples should continue to use condoms “every time they have sex (including vaginal, anal, and oral sex),” the CDC writes, because the Zika virus can stay in the semen of an infected man for months.
  • Pregnant women should continue to get tested for Zika up to eight weeks after the travel ban has been lifted for a region — which would be until about August of 2017 for South Florida.

Such precautions are important, Curry says, for several reasons.

First, even when it looks like Zika has “disappeared,” Curry says, it could still be circulating. About 80 percent people who are infected with the virus don’t have any symptoms at all.

And if the virus is merely lurking below detectable levels, Zika cases could start cropping up again at any moment. Last summer, Zika likely circulated in Florida for months before it was detected by health officials, a recent study found.

So if you live in South Florida, or are headed there this summer, pack the DEET, cover clothes in permethrin and be on the lookout for skeeters.

Traveling overseas

Although Zika cases have dropped across the Caribbean and Latin America, the CDC’s travel recommendations haven’t changed. Pregnant women should not travel to places where Zika is circulating. If a spouse travels to one of these areas, the couple should use condoms for at least six months.

Couples trying to get pregnant should also not travel to these regions. If they must, the CDC recommends waiting at least six months before trying to conceive after a man returns from a country with Zika and waiting at least eight weeks after a woman returns.

Fetal medicine expert Dr. Neil Silverman worries that some doctors are forgetting to give their patients these travel warnings.

“We’ve gotten calls at our practice from women who have traveled to areas where’s there’s clearly active transmission of Zika,” says Silverman, an OB-GYN at the Center for Fetal Medicine in Los Angeles.

“Either their doctors have essentially decided the risk is over or the woman forgot to ask. Then they come back home and realize that there was a risk.”

Even if a country has reported only a few cases — or hasn’t had a case in months — Silverman says the recommendations are the same.

Take for instance, India, which reported its first official cases in May. There were only three cases recorded, across the entire country. But the virus has likely been circulating in India for decades, studies show. And pregnant women should avoid travel there, Silverman says.

For the purpose of a traveler, there’s not a huge distinction between whether a country has a large number of new cases occurring or whether there’s sort of a background, long-standing risk,” he says.

Places with this sort of background risk include large parts of Southeast Asia and Africa.

So if you’re pregnant or “trying,” check out the CDC’s Zika map before booking a plane ticket, and avoid all the areas that are purple on the map.

“With everything else going on in the country and in the world, Zika has taken a little bit of a backseat in the news cycle,” Silverman says. “But it’s still a big concern.”

Florida’s Medical Marijuana Program Is A Disaster

Remember when 72 percent of Floridians voted to usher in a new era of open access to medical marijuana? That triumphant moment for medical weed was just in November, but for Florida patients this morning, it feels like a lifetime ago.

Late this past Friday, a bill to regulate the new weed industry imploded in Tallahassee. Then medical marijuana’s two biggest champions — über-lawyer John Morgan and United for Care campaign consultant Ben Pollara — viciously turned on each other in a spicy Twitter beef.

Now the fate of medical marijuana access lies in the hands of Gov. Rick Scott’s Department of Health, which has already signaled it will enact even more restrictive rules. The whole situation is likely to end up in court, meaning hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars will be wasted — and patients, in the meantime, still won’t have the easy access to marijuana that voters overwhelmingly backed in November.

It’s a mess, and it rests squarely in the laps of state legislators who couldn’t even agree on a highly flawed bill to do what voters asked them to do. Late Friday, Senate and House leaders threw in the towel on medical pot regulations.

The biggest hangup was on whether the rules should set a limit on how many storefront dispensaries each company with a medical pot license could open. The House and Senate also fought over whether to tax those dispensaries.

Although the two bodies will return today to try to hash out a final budget bill (which could still be vetoed by Scott), they’ve officially given up on setting rules for medical marijuana.

This past Saturday, Morgan, the wealthy attorney who bankrolled the pot amendment, laid the blame squarely on Pollara, his former right-hand man in leading the fight for medical weed. Morgan compared Pollara to Fredo from the Godfather movies and accused his former deputy of “selling out” by backing dispensary limits.

Pollara hit back that he was only ever paid by the same groups that pushed for the medical marijuana amendment in the first place. “I have been compensated over the last four and a half years for my work as campaign manager for United for Care and executive director of Florida for Care,” Pollara said. “I have always viewed any financial stake in the marijuana industry as a clear conduct with my roles as an advocate and leader of these two organizations.”

As the beef escalated on Twitter — with Morgan, a likely candidate for governor, calling Pollara “bought and paid for” and saying the failed bill was “all on him” — medical marijuana backers were left stunned and wondering what comes next.

The short answer: nothing good. Without a bill from Tallahassee in place, Florida’s DOH will be required to set up its own rules for the medical pot industry by July.

The DOH already set up a draft version of its own rules in January, and they were slammed by pro-pot advocates as overly restrictive. The DOH’s rules would barely expand access already available in Florida by allowing patients with a few more debilitating conditions such as AIDS and cancer to obtain the medicine; it would prevent doctors from making their own diagnoses about other conditions that need marijuana and would ban smoking the drug.

Morgan has already promised to sue the state over the rules. But that legal fight won’t end quickly, and patients who need the drugs will be left waiting even longer.

“The Florida legislature chose political gamesmanship over the will of 71 percent of voters,” Pollara told Politico this weekend. “The real losers are sick and suffering Floridians.”

Florida Officials: No Zika Found in Mosquito Samples So Far

Florida agriculture officials say no mosquitoes in the state have tested positive for the Zika virus so far this year.

According to a statement from the state’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, nearly 90,000 individual mosquitoes have been tested for the virus linked to severe birth defects. None of the mosquitoes from more than 6,500 samples have tested positive for the presence of Zika so far in 2017.

Agriculture officials recently hosted workshops around the state for local officials to discuss mosquito surveillance and control measures. Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam said that as summer begins, it’s important that Florida communities have the resources they need for their Zika response efforts.

Florida’s Medical Marijuana Monopolies Are Cashing in and Patients Will Suffer

There are 21 million people in Florida, millions of whom will eventually qualify for the medical-grade marijuana voters approved in November. Very soon, a hell of a lot of weed is going to be legally sold in the Sunshine State. And yet so far, lawmakers have given exactly seven companies the right to grow and sell all that pot.

While Tallahassee may yet hand out a few more licenses by the end of the session, the seven-member pot cartel is already cashing in big-time on its advantage. Yesterday, Canadian firm Aphria paid $25 million to buy out Chestnut Hill Tree Farm, an Alachua nursery with one of those licenses. And last week, Massachusetts-based Palliatech bought a 49 percent stake in Miami’s only pot grower, Costa Nursery Farms.

As millions flow into those lucky license holders, critics say the state is letting a de-facto monopoly rake in major cash at the expense of the patients who actually need that medical pot.

“The legislature may ultimately act to sanction what will be the creation of the largest marijuana growers in the world outside the Sinaloa cartel,” says Ben Pollara, head of United for Care, which spearheaded the successful medical marijuana campaign.  “Which begs the question, which licensee is El Chapo looking at buying?”

Florida’s approach to creating a regulated medical marijuana industry flies in the face of what’s worked nationally, industry insiders say. Massachusetts, with less than a fourth of Florida’s population, will soon have hundreds of license holders. More than 500 are allowed to grow and sell in Colorado. And even tiny Vermont, with all of 670,000 residents, has eight licensed growers.

But Florida has highly restricted its licensing since first allowing non-THC strains to be grown back in 2015. Even after voters approved full-blown medical weed in November, there’s been heavy pushback to efforts to bring more farms and potential retailers into the mix.

Sen. Jeff Brandes has proposed a rules overhaul that would open up more licenses, but he’s faced heavy pushback. (And don’t even ask what nonsense the House is up to.) Why?

“I’ve never seen anything like the absolute greed going on here,” says one medical marijuana industry insider who asked not to be named. “I’ve never seen anything as bald-faced.”

That’s why we’re seeing gigantic deals like Aphria’s purchase, which market analysts say puts a value of close to $200 million on a single pot license. And it explains why those seven license holders are fighting like hell to hang on to their share of the pie.

“Behind the scenes, these seven guys have hired an army of the best lobbyists in the state,” says the insider. “These guys are trying to justify outrageous valuations for their licenses as they raise capital. And their message has been, “Look, it’s game over, we’re going to be only seven license holders in the state.'”

If only a tiny group of companies control the market, patients are going to pay a hefty price and might lack ready access to the marijuana they voted overwhelmingly to approve.

“At the Senate Health Policy committee earlier this week, at least one Senator used the need to protect the investments these companies have made in Florida as a rationale against expanding patient access by issuing new licenses,” Pollara says. “Yet while these companies’ lobbyists press members with protectionist sob stories, they’re out raising money hand-over-fist from big foreign investors.”

Among those investors: PalliaTech, the company that now controls a minority stake of the only firm licensed in Miami, is chaired by Boris Jordan — a Russian-American investor with deep ties to Moscow’s regime. (Just check out the glowing op-eds Jordan has penned in support of the dictatorial Russian leader.)

If lawmakers cared about getting pot to the patients who need it, they wouldn’t be kowtowing to the millionaires trying to corner the market.

“What drives me crazy is the simple question,’What is your priority here?’ This is supposed to be about the patients,” says the industry insider. “We’ve seen this all around the country, the more license holders that a state allows, the better the products and the prices to the patient that come with that competition. So why do legislators want to keep restricting the number of license holders? It’s certainly not about the patients.”

Floridians Are Very Upset with State Legislators for Delaying Medical Marijuana Rules

In November, more than seven in ten Floridians at the polls checked yes on Amendment 2, which legalized medical marijuana in the Sunshine State. Considering that Floridians would probably split 50-50 if asked whether they’d like a free delicious cupcake, that’s an amazing result.

So state legislators shouldn’t be shocked that a solid majority of the state is pretty upset with them today. Four months after that overwhelming vote, Tallahassee looks far away from passing the rules that will let dispensaries open up shop around the state. In fact, the first draft of those rules would make it more difficult than ever to get medical pot.

That’s not at all what voters asked for at the ballot box, and a new poll shows they’re less than pleased with how Tally is handling medical marijuana. The survey, from GOP pollsters Fabrizio, Lee & Associates, finds that a solid plurality of voters is displeased with both the Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott for dawdling on medical weed.

The poll, which sampled 800 Floridians who cast ballots last year, shows that 40 percent disapprove of the Legislature’s work so far (with 37 percent approving) and 41 percent unhappy with Scott, who gets just a 34 percent nod of approval.

“Independent voters disapprove of the Legislature’s and Governor’s efforts to implement the new medical marijuana laws by even larger margins than voters as a whole,” pollster Tony Fabrizio writes.

Among voters who cast yes ballots on Amendment 2, 57 percent said the state was moving too slowly in approving rules for medical weed; 44 percent of voters overall agreed.

The poll was paid for by Smart Medicine for Florida, a conservative-leaning group founded by Tea Party-affiliated former Rick Scott and Florida Republican Party spokesman Brian Hughes. The group has tried to position itself as a “centrist” voice on medical weed.

The new poll also shows a nearly even split among voters about whether Florida should allow recreational pot. While 60 percent of those who backed Amendment 2 say they also favor legal recreational weed, that question received approval from only 46 percent of the overall body of voters in the poll. (Around 5 percent said they were undecided.)

The pollsters also asked voters whether the state should limit the number of dispensaries allowed under Amendment 2 and found that 54 percent said yes — an interesting result somewhat undercut by the vague wording of the question, which doesn’t specify how exactly the number would be limited.

As Florida for Care’s Ben Pollara pointed out to Politico this morning, the state does have six months to write medical marijuana rules and nine months to implement them, so the process is relatively on track so far.

“The legislature’s pace has been totally reasonable and in keeping with the requirements of the amendment,” Pollara tells New Times. “Some of the proposals, however, have been neither. The House’s proposal seems to be written for the 29 percent who voted “no” rather than the 71 percent who voted to approve medical marijuana.”

The poll suggests there could be political pain for the GOP-run statehouse if legislators don’t stick to that timeline — or if they persist with rules that would actually make it more difficult to obtain medicinal weed.

Florida’s Definition Of Skim Milk As “Imitation Milk Product” Ruled Unconstitutional

The long-running legal battle over Florida’s definition of “skim milk” may have finally come to an end today, with a federal appeals court ruling that it’s unconstitutional for the state to require that unfortified skim milk be labeled “imitation milk product.”

Under Florida state law, “imitation milk products” are those foods that have the “physical characteristics, such as taste, flavor, body, texture, or appearance, of milk,” but do not fall within the state’s definition of “milk products” because they are “nutritionally inferior to the product imitated.”

In the state’s view, skim milk lacks vitamins and nutrients that are found in whole milk. Thus, a dairy must re-introduce those lost nutrients (primarily vitamin A) to skim milk in order to avoid the “imitation” label.

However, the folks at Ocheesee Creamery think this is a violation of their rights. In 2012, the Florida Dept. of Agriculture told them their skim milk would have to carry the wordy designation of “Non-Grade ‘A’ Milk Product, Natural Milk Vitamins Removed,” or NGAMPNVR if you’re into overly complicated acronyms.

Ocheesee sued the state in 2014, arguing that it violated the company’s First Amendment rights. The complaint alleged that the imitation milk product designation would “confuse and mislead its customers by mislabeling its safe, all-natural, pure skim milk.”

At a 2015 hearing in the dispute, it looked like the judge might be favoring the dairy’s argument.

“It’s hard to call this imitation milk. It came right out of the cow,” said the judge at the time. “Anyone who reads imitation skim milk would think it didn’t come out of a cow.”

However, in March 2016, that same federal judge granted summary judgment in favor of the state, noting that the widespread assumption that skim milk is just milk with less fat actually supports the state’s argument.

“[C]onsumers take for granted the nutritional value of skim milk without even knowing that the vitamins have been restored,” explained the judge in 2016. “The record includes a survey that confirms this conclusion: most consumers buy milk for its nutritional value, and most expect skim milk to include the same vitamin content as whole milk.”

Ocheesee appealed its case to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which today ruled against Florida.

Commercial speech enjoys fewer constitutional protections than individual expression, so it’s up to the courts to decide whether governmental restrictions on commercial speech go too far.

The 1980 Supreme Court ruling in Central Hudson Gas v. Public Service Commission of NY established a multi-part test for determining whether government restrictions on otherwise lawful commercial speech violate the First Amendment.

First among those is whether the speech being restricted is misleading or concerns an unlawful activity. The Eleventh Circuit concluded that the creamery’s actions were not unlawful, just its speech.

But is that speech misleading? The lower court had held that Ocheesee’s use of “skim milk” was inherently misleading because it did not agree with the state’s definition. However, the appeals panel notes that being inconsistent with a state’s definition doesn’t necessarily make a phrase misleading.

“All a state would need to do in order to regulate speech would be to redefine the pertinent language in accordance with its regulatory goals,” explains today’s order. “Then, all usage in conflict with the regulatory agenda would be inherently misleading and fail Central Hudson’s threshold test. Such reasoning is self-evidently circular.”

As for the lower court’s conclusion that the state’s particular “skim milk” definition is working, since most people assume skim milk is nutritionally equal to whole milk, the appeals court counters that this is really evidence of people being misinformed than it is some acceptance of the state’s labeling requirements: “unfamiliarity is not synonymous with misinformation.”

Another question raised in Central Hudson is whether the restriction is only as extensive as it needs to be to serve the government’s interest.

In that regard, the Eleventh Circuit found that the “State’s mandate was clearly more extensive than necessary to serve its interest in preventing deception and ensuring adequate nutritional standards.”

The judges said the state disregarded less restrictive and more precise means of communicating what is in the Ocheesee skim milk, like “allowing skim milk to be called what it is and merely requiring a disclosure that it lacks vitamin A.”

Florida Medical Marijuana Bill Would Outlaw Smokable and Edible Cannabis

Florida’s United for Care campaign spent two full election cycles — 2014 and 2016 — drafting, fighting, and pushing Floridians to legalize medicinal cannabis for demonstrably sick people. Last year, 72 percent of Floridians voted to amend the state constitution to legalize medical weed for people with diseases such as cancer and Alzheimer’s. Now it’s up to the Florida Legislature to adopt medical marijuana rules.

Yesterday, Fort Myers Rep. Ray Rodrigues finally unveiled the first medical weed regulations — and they would ban people from smoking marijuana or using edibles. Patients would also be prohibited from vaporizing weed if they aren’t terminally ill.

In fact, Rodrigues’ bill is more restrictive than the laws that existed before Florida overwhelmingly voted to legalize medical weed.

“It goes further than the current statute in terms of restricting medical marijuana,” says Ben Pollara, United for Care’s campaign director. “There was unanimous agreement that the new amendment would expand use.”

Rodrigues’ bill, which he introduced Tuesday, defines the “medical use” of cannabis as “the acquisition, possession, use, delivery, transfer, or administration of marijuana authorized by a physician certification.”

Specifically, however, the bill says medical use does not include “possession, use, or administration of marijuana in a form for smoking or vaping or in the form of commercially produced food items made with marijuana or marijuana oils, except for vapable forms possessed, used, or administered by or for a qualified patient diagnosed with a terminal condition.”

The restrictions perplex marijuana advocates such as Pollara.

“The question we’ve been asking all day is, ‘Well, how can you ingest it?'” he told New Times.

Before last year’s legalization vote, the state had already allowed low-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) cannabis derivatives for terminally ill people under what was known as the “Compassionate Use” law. Under the old system, doctors could register on a state database and administer low-THC, high-cannabidiol medicines such as the “Charlotte’s Web” hemp extract.

The rest of Rodrigues’ 61-page bill effectively treats medical marijuana patients like they’re registering to ingest uranium. Lawmakers included rules mandating that a medical cannabis patient submit his or her state driver’s license and a second form of ID to obtain approved for medicinal weed. Patients can have their medical-pot licenses suspended if they’re charged (not convicted) of any drug offense; the state can also revoke pot licenses once a patient is deemed to be “cured.”

People who want to administer drugs to people who can’t take them themselves (such as children or the elderly) must undergo background checks and training courses. Both patients and caregivers will be issued photo ID cards. Patients will be barred from buying more than a 90-day supply of cannabis.

The bill also mandates an “education campaign” to publicize the “short-term and long-term health effects of cannabis and marijuana use, particularly on minors and young adults,” the “legal requirements for licit use and possession of marijuana in this state,” and the “safe use of marijuana.” The bill also sets up an impaired-driving education campaign.

“I don’t know how malleable the bill is right now, but it can be amended,” Pollara says. “It’s a disappointing place to start, but I’d rather it be disappointing to start than disappointing to finish.”

As always, if you want opiate painkillers in Florida, no such registration process for patients or caregivers is required. And unlike weed, those pills can kill you.

Florida Real Estate Agents Targeted By Elaborate Fake Realtor Group

Realtors in the state of Florida are being targeted and threatened with the suspension of their license as part of an elaborate scam allegedly perpetrated by a fake Realtor group, the state’s actual Realtor group warned on Monday.

Florida Realtors, which boasts 165,000 members in 55 boards and associations, issued a warning to its members this week after Realtors in the state recently began receiving letters from the “Florida Board of Realtors” that claim the Realtors real estate license is in danger of suspension.

The issue? The “Florida Board of Realtors” doesn’t exist.

And according to Florida Realtors CEO Bill Martin, whoever is perpetrating the scheme went through a great deal of effort to make the group appear legitimate.

“It’s a scam,” Martin said. “And it’s not a simple scam. High-tech criminals put a great deal of work and planning into this.

According to Martin, Realtors in Florida called the legitimate Realtor group after receiving “final notice” letters from the “Florida Board of Realtors,” which threatened the Realtor with a license suspension unless the Realtor submitted a $225 renewal fee.

“Failure to respond with your 2017 Agent Board Listing may lead to closure of board listing,” the letter states. “Response required to be included in the Agency listing.”

According to Florida Realtors, Realtors sent in copies of the letter, which appears to be professionally done. The group also said that the letters include a “Make check payable to:” address that appears to be a post office in Deerfield Beach, Fla.

Martin said that the scam came to light in the last few days after Realtors all over the state began receiving the fake letters.

But the scam isn’t limited to the letters.

According to Florida Realtors, the letter also directs recipients to, which presents itself as a legitimate, functioning website.

But clicking on any of the links listed on the site shows that the website does have much detail beyond a few high-level landing pages. Most links are dead-ends.

Florida Realtors General Counsel Margy Grant said the group is already in contact with various governmental agencies about the letters.

“For now, members should ignore these demand letters, and we ask brokers and agents to spread this message to everyone working in the Florida real estate industry,” Grant said.

“Florida Realtors is still investigating and in contact with Florida authorities. It’s now also in front of the Senior Assistant Attorney General in the Economic Crimes section in Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office,” Grant continued.

Grant also said that the group contacted both Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation and the Florida Real Estate Commission about the scam, and is considering legal action.

“Be vigilant. Be safe. And tell everyone you know,” Grant concluded. “Criminals created a truly impressive fake website, sent a complex fake letter and successfully alarmed Realtors across the state.”

Jimmy Buffett Is Opening ‘Margaritaville’ Retirement Communities In Florida For Aging Parrotheads

This was bound to happen eventually. Jimmy Buffett’s hospitality and food empire already includes Margaritaville (which encompasses restaurants, hotels, resorts, and casinos), a beer brand (LandShark, which is a better beach beer than it has any right to be), and all the beach-related merchandise that any ocean-adjacent person could possibly need in one lifetime. So naturally, as the tropically-obsessed singer/songwriter leans into his 70th year on this sandy, tequila-filled Earth, it’s only right that Buffett has decided to partner with development company Minto Communities to open a Margaritaville-themed retirement home community.

Before you even waste a second thinking about the obvious: yes. The first location of Buffett’s retirement home will be based in Daytona, Florida.

The first location will include approximately 7,000 available homes and be dubbed “Latitude Margaritaville” with prices in the reasonable range of $200-350,000 for residents 55 or over. According to Senior Vice President of Minto, Bill Bullock, the company aims to have things completely up and running by 2018. There are already 10,000 registrants on the list for a spot so if your parents want a prime location in the Daytona community they better sign up fast and hope people ahead of them on the list…drop off somehow. To put it nicely.

Now, this idea might be easy to make fun of, but for anybody who has actually experienced and embraced the world of Jimmy Buffet and his “Parrothead” fans, it makes sense why this type of retirement opportunity is appealing. Although I hate to admit it, I’m one of those people and it’s largely (read: entirely) because my dad is a legitimate Parrothead (complete with a parrot tattoo that he got in Key West decades ago). So it only makes sense to me, having been to 10 concerts and counting with this community’s target audience, why this could be appealing enough to buy into. Each 2 or 3-bedroom home comes with personal beach access, spa and fitness facility access, and live entertainment for residents.

For a not-small section of a generation, Buffett concerts are a yearly escape where 12 hours or more of tailgating and making friends in the parking lot has turned into a kind of beach-based religion where frozen drinks at 11am and turning your car into a pirate ship is the norm, not strange. So it’s no surprise that 10,000 people and counting have decided that some approximation of this environment is where they would like to live out their days. A daily concert of Buffett’s pre-1996 discography sounds like the perfect way to break up the normal retirement home monotony. Any album after ’96 is, of course, strictly ignored for everyone’s mental well being.

Jimmy is heading into his 42nd straight summer of touring this year so who knows? He may make a surprise appearance every now and then once his retirement kicks in fully. Until then, Parrotheads finally have a place to enjoy retirement where they can try to reason with hurricane season every day, until they go up to that big cheeseburger paradise in the sky.

How Two Indian Snake Catchers Caught 14 Burmese Pythons in Two Weeks in Florida

For years, Florida wildlife officials have struggled to tackle a growing problem in the Everglades: the invasive Burmese python, which devours the mammal population (like raccoons, opossum and rabbits) and out-competes native predators (such as alligators) in the process. The species, which is native to Southeast Asia, has been introduced over the last few decades when local pet owners release them into the wild.

Years of Python Challenges, in which amateur hunters compete to catch the most pythons (or largest python) for a sizable cash prize, have resulted in thousands of snakes being caught, but other, more extensive methods are needed to curb the Burmese python population.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the University of Florida are hoping to learn those methods from two of their newest recruits: a pair of Irula tribesmen from India who are expert snake-hunters. The tribesmen removed 14 pythons in two weeks, including four from the Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Key Largo. One of the snakes was a female measuring 16 feet long, according to local news reports.

While 14 snakes may not seem like a lot, consider it in the context of the Python Challenge. In 2016, about 1,000 hunters caught 106 snakes in one month; in contrast, these two tribesman caught an average of one a day for two weeks.

The pilot project is also relatively cheap: just $68,888 for two tribesmen and two translators for two months.

Armed only with tire irons to punch through dense Burma reed and sharp limestone rock and trailed by biologists, the pair are on the lookout for the sparkle of snakeskin in the bush. They’re also searching for what the snakes left behind: a ripple in the sand, a tunnel through grass or scat. All of these signs can alert them to the presence of the snake, the malai pambu, a snake far bigger than any the men have encountered in India.

Their methods are proving successful, according to UF biologist Ed Metzger, who told the Herald that seven of the snakes captured would not have been found without the trackers. Florida officials have often focused on areas where snakes are known to bask, such as roads or levees. But the tribesmen head straight for thick brush and have impressed local officials with their ability to correctly predict the size and sex of the snake they’re tracking.

It’s too soon to say if the unique partnership will be a success, but the results will be compared with other efforts, including the so-called “Judas” snake project, where biologists send out radio-tagged “Judas” snakes to reveal the location of other snakes. In the meantime, the search continues for a sure-fire way to stem the growth of the invasive Burmese python in the Florida Everglades.