More than 450 snake hunters have gathered in the Florida Everglades to compete in a 10-day challenge to see who can catch the most Burmese pythons. The winner of the annual challenge will take home a record prize of $10,000.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), South Florida Water Management District and the Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida host the Florida Python Challenge to increase awareness about invasive species and the threats they pose to Florida’s ecology.
Burmese pythons can grow up to 20 feet in length and reach 200 pounds. The nonnative species is taking over parts of the Everglades ecosystem in South Florida and wreaking havoc on the food chain. Burmese pythons prey on birds, mammals and other reptiles. A 2012 study showed populations of raccoons and opossums had dropped 99%, and bobcats 87% since 1997. Marsh rabbits, cottontail rabbits, and foxes effectively disappeared from that area.
Python scouring this year begins at 5 p.m. Friday. Over the course of 10 days entrants will compete to see who can capture the most pythons, the longest python and the heaviest python. Last year Mike Kimmel took home the top prize — an ATV — for removing eight pythons during the challenge. Scientists from the University of Florida are conducting the official measuring and weighing of the snakes.
Pythons submitted for the longest python challenge should be in no more than two pieces, and the head of the python must be included, reads FWC rules on the contest.
In the event of a tie for the most pythons, the award will be given to the participant with the longest total length of all pythons captured by that participant.
No firearms are allowed to be used in the competition, and snakes must be killed “humanely.” The snakes are to be caught “by hand,” but “snake hooks, snake tongs, snake bags, noose poles and long-handled non-motorized tools” may be used to assist in ferreting out the big snakes.
While pythons hunted through Florida’s Python Challenge won’t make a huge dent in the population — a female Burmese python can lay 50 to 100 eggs at a time — the attention it draws to the problem helps, according to Gov. Ron DeSantis who flew down to the Everglades to kick off registration for the challenge in early June.
“There’s people from all over the world that want to come do the Python Challenge,” DeSantis said.
Python hunting is legal year-round in Florida, and FWC takes other innovative approaches to encourage removal of the destructive snakes. Since 2000, more than 13,000 Burmese pythons have been removed from the state of Florida. Removal efforts have ranged from a python detector dog program to a Python Action team, made up of people who are paid to remove and turn in pythons to FWC.
“As part of my focus on restoring the Everglades, I’ve charged FWC with dedicating more resources and taking innovative approaches to removing invasive Burmese pythons,” DeSantis said.
People interested in competing can still register through the last day of the competition, July 18 at FLPythonChallenge.org. There is a $25 registration fee and participants must complete a free online training to compete.
A private company called Virtual Business Services is funding the $10,000 prize.