Florida wants you — to help solve its snake problem. It’s a challenge not for the faint of heart, which has spurred the state wildlife commission to host a contest — with a cash prize — to help combat the colonies of Burmese pythons that have taken over the Everglades, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reported.
Dubbed the “2013 Python Challenge,” the month-long event, which kicks off Jan. 12, will take place on the state’s public hunting lands and will be separated into distinct contests: one for the general public, and one for state-licensed python hunters (yes, there are professional python hunters), according to the Florida paper. Winners in both divisions will receive $1,000 for catching the longest serpent and $1,500 for catching the greatest number of the slithering creatures.
After completing an online training course and attending an open house about pythons and other invasive species, competitors will proceed to hunt their prey in four wildlife management areas in southern Florida: Francis S. Taylor, Holey Land, Rotenberger and Big Cypress.
As per the rules outlined on pythonchallenge.org, participants must kill the pythons in “a humane manner that results in immediate loss of consciousness and destruction of the brain.” The contest’s site does indeed offer “euthanasia” recommendations, and suggests shooting the snake in the head with a captive bolt or decapitating it with a machete.
“The [Florida Wildlife Commission] is encouraging the public to get involved in helping us remove Burmese pythons from public lands in south Florida,” Kristen Sommers, head of the FWC’s Exotic Species Coordination Section, said in a press release. “By enlisting both the public and Florida’s python permit holders in a month-long competitive harvesting of Burmese pythons, we hope to motivate more people to find and harvest these large, invasive snakes.”
According to Sommers, the Python Challenge has been organized in part to educate Floridians about the perils of releasing nonnative species, such as the Burmese pythons, into the wild. The “competitive harvesting” may also provide more information about south Florida’s python population for use in further research, Sommers said.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Spokeswoman Carli Segelson told the Jacksonville Observer that non-native species “can be very detrimental to Florida’s nature ecosystem and native wildlife.”
(PHOTOS: Burmese Pythons Invade Florida)
The first large constrictors to find their way to Everglades National Park are believed to have originally been pets that were let free. The now considerable population feasts on the state’s native species, including the endangered Key Largo wood rat and the endangered wood stork, CNN explained. The pythons are thought be responsible for the Everglades’ dwindling populations of rabbits, foxes, raccoons, opossums and bobcats.
Sponsors of the contest include the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the Nature Conservancy, the Future of Hunting in Florida and Zoo Miami.
“It’s very difficult to find these animals and we don’t really have a good strategy on how to contain this population,” Linda Friar, spokeswoman for Everglades National Park, told CNN. “This is a pilot to see if it will gain public interest in areas that you can hunt so that they would be able to remove and capture these snakes.”
In Florida, importing Burmese pythons — which can grow to more than 17 feet long and produce over 35 eggs at a time — and selling them as pets is prohibited. According to ABC Action News, some state figures estimate that there are tens of thousands of pythons in the Everglades. Last year, 272 of these snakes were removed from the area.
The massive reptiles are not poisonous and are typically not considered a danger to humans. Still, that’s not to say they’re gentle giants: Friar told CNN that a 76-pound deer was found in the stomach of a 16-foot python earlier this year. Unsurprisingly, Python Challenge contestants are required to sign a liability waiver before participating.