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Sunday, February 27, 2005; Page A02

Florida Revels in Report of Six-Foot Python in Toilet

It has been a good long while since Dave Barry, esteemed chronicler of everything kooky, declared "a worldwide epidemic of snakes in toilets."

In the decade or so since, thanks to his groundbreaking reporting, it has become more than acceptable to admit taking a quick glance down before, well, sitting down.

Prairie dogs have been competing with cattle for grassland in South Dakota's Buffalo Gap National Grasslands. (Blaine Harden For The Washington Post)

So, the burning question at hand is: Could there be another epidemic?

Some compelling proof was right there on the front page of the St. Petersburg Times the other day: a snake in a toilet!

Even better, it was sort of a snake rodeo in a toilet. Shannon Scavotto, the guy who discovered a six-foot python in his commode, showed true Florida snake-in-toilet aplomb by snapping a picture with his cell-phone camera and lassoing the reptile.

Ron Magill, of Miami's Metrozoo, said a snake sighting in a bathroom is little wonder, because "Florida is like the Ellis Island of exotic animals."

But the most worked-up people were surely the denizens of Barry's official blog, where a snake-in-toilet yuk fest erupted. A link to an article about the snake adventure noted that "this urgent item was sent in by pretty much every life form on earth."

-- Manuel Roig-Franzia

Prairie Dogs May Become Official Pest of South Dakota

If it isn't the deluge or the drought or the mountain lions, it's the prairie dogs. What's a rancher to do?

Wild River ranchers in South Dakota are tired of seeing the burrowing critters outmaneuver their cattle for scarce grassland. They prize their independence -- the ranchers, that is -- but some think it's time for the federal government to act.

One bill passed unanimously by the state Senate this month anoints the prairie dog as an official South Dakota pest and permits their poisoning if several conditions are met, including evidence that they have colonized more than 145,000 acres in the state.

Another bill, approved narrowly, demands that Washington control the animals within a one-mile buffer zone around the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands. State Sen. Eric Bogue (R) agrees that prairie dogs are a problem, but doesn't think South Dakota can tell the U.S. Forest Service what to do.

Prairie dogs have been pushed by drought into new territory and have proved to be adept at avoiding ferrets imported to devour them. "If you have too many," Bogue explained, "you defeat the whole purpose of having protected grasslands."

But this is a state problem first, Bogue believes: "The U.S. Constitution does not allow us to one-up the federal government."

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