Giant snails of African origin have invaded Miami households and are encroaching on private gardens. The animals are posing a real threat of non-lethal meningitis infection and may even damage wooden buildings.
Local environmentalists in Miami have already launched an operation to wipe out the snails from the area and a warning has been issued to residents to join in the cull.
The African giants, Achatina fulica, often kept as pets, can grow up to 25 centimeters long and ten centimeters wide and are considered one of the most damaging snail species in the world. They eat at least 500 different types of plants and can live up to nine years. They also pose a health risk by carrying a parasite that can cause meningitis in humans.
“The central problem is the health impact they may have on humans. These animals can cause a type of rare and incurable meningitis. Moreover, the snails can seriously affect the district’s agriculture,” Mark Fagan, spokesperson for the Department of Agriculture in Florida, told RT.
Importing the species into the US is prohibited without a special permit which is usually given only for scientific research.
The authorities are trying to determine if the outbreak of snails is linked to a smuggling operation.
Also, there could be a religious motive for breeding the snails in Miami. Reportedly, there are sects in the state which believe the tropical creatures harbor healing properties.
Practitioners of African religion Ifa Orisha allegedly persuade followers to drink the snails' juices as part of a healing ritual.
It is not the first time this species of African mollusk has spread in the US. The last reported outbreak of the snail in Florida occurred in 1966 when a boy smuggled three of the snails into Miami from Hawaii as pets.
“We thought we had eliminated the problem, but it seems to be appearing once again. Inspecting households now we are trying to elaborate a strategy to exclude similar outbreaks in future,” Mark Fagan suggested.
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