Background: We report the first formal records and population recovery of wild Burmese pythons (Python molurus bivittatus) in the Kinmen islands, which are located 2.1 km from the Chinese coastline and are under military control of the Taiwanese government. During the Cold War period, bombardments by China destroyed most of the buildings and vegetation on the island, possibly extirpating the python population. In recent years, political tensions have subsided, and 95% of the military forces have been withdrawn from the islands, allowing pythons and other wildlife populations to recover 40 years after being extirpated. Increased python predation on small livestock has recently become a nuisance to farmers, villagers, and aboriginal people, who are unaware of old python records from the island and therefore regard them as invasive pests. Results: In order to clarify the origin of this python population, mitochondrial cytochrome b and COI genes were sequenced from 33 pythons from Kinmen, Fuzhou Zoo (China) and pet traders (Vietnam). Molecular phylogeny and haplotype networks showed a close relationship between Kinmen and Chinese populations, rejecting the speculation from local people that pythons were introduced from Southeast Asia. Population expansion of the python in recent years might be relevant to the retreat of the army, illustrating a novel case of demilitarized zone protecting wildlife. Conclusions: Since Kinmen Island has a similar latitude and climatic factors as the Everglades National Park in southern Florida (USA), where the Burmese python has become established, ecological and physiological research on the Kinmen population has potential value for comparative studies of habitat selection and niche modeling. Research on this new population could facilitate development of management plans for the Kinmen Island population and possibly help with managing the invasive population in the Florida Everglades.
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