Calling all snake wranglers – the annual Florida Python Challenge is on!
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis announced that registration for the competition opened Thursday. Hunters can win cash prizes for the most Burmese pythons caught and the longest python in both the pro and novice categories.
"So this challenge, Python challenge, allows the public to engage direct hands-on in Everglades restoration," said DeSantis at the press conference. "You can win prizes and of course, you will be doing a public service."
Every year, the state, along with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the South Florida Water Management District, holds the event to cut down the invasive Burmese python population in the Everglades as well as raise awareness about how the species threatens the ecosystem.
Who can hunt snakes?
Anyone over the age of 18 can join the challenge for $25. Everyone must watch a 30-minute online video on identifying, safely capturing and humanely killing the python. Kids under 18 can attend with a registered adult.
A snake professional gave a preview of safe capture during the press conference.
"I am going to try to tire him out just a little before I get in there. Let him pull against me a little bit. He’s using his muscles so that will tire him out a little bit," said the pro during the demonstration. "And then you get up behind the head. And of course, he will be trying to get his head out. And this is the point where I give him my leg, I try to get him to wrap around my leg instead of my arm."
Thankfully the python is a non-venomous constrictor. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) reports that there are only one to two constrictor-snake fatalities a year worldwide.
"All known constrictor-snake fatalities in the United States are from captive snakes; these are split between deaths of snake owners who were purposefully interacting with their pet and deaths of small children or infants in homes where a snake was kept captive as a pet," wrote the USGS. "There have been no human deaths from wild-living Burmese pythons in Florida. Overall, the risk of attack is very low."
Registrants can hunt the pythons in seven different wildlife and hunting areas. The hunters have 24 hours to present their "humanely killed" catch to an official event check station. The challenge runs from August 5th to the 14th.
"So we have both pros at this and novices," said DeSantis about the different categories of prizes. "We understood that there have been some efforts in the past, but we really wanted to supercharge those efforts and get more and more pythons out of the Everglades so that the rest of our wildlife there could thrive."
The novice and the pro with the most number of snakes take home $2,500 each. The runner-up novice and pro win $750 each. The hunters with the longest python (novice and pro) claim $1,500 each while the runner-ups collect $750 each. Active duty military and veterans who register can win extra prizes.
Participants have the option to claim the carcasses after the competition to sell the skin or fashion a belt or wallet out of their effort. Even though python recipes abound online, officials don't recommend eating Everglades snakes because a USGS study found high levels of mercury in them.
Pythons decimate native wildlife
"They're eating, basically, everything out of the Everglades. You know, before you used to see a lot of mammals," airboat tour owner, Humberto Torres told a FOX Nation crew while filming 'The Everglades: Preserving paradise.' "We don't see them anymore. They're being eaten by the Burmese pythons, and they're just killing the entire habitat of the Everglades."
A 2012 study found tremendous declines in the southern areas of Everglades National Park of mammals. The USGS reported that marsh rabbits, cottontail rabbits and foxes have nearly disappeared since 1997.
Other mammals disappearing -- population free-fall:
- Raccoons dropped 99.3%
- Opossums dropped 98.9%
- Bobcats dropped 87.5%
"Released through the pet trade, both intentionally and by accident, the Burmese Python has been established and reproducing in South Florida since at least 2000," wrote the Florida Museum about the Asia native. "This python captured the world’s attention when removed from Everglades National Park and euthanized by federal scientists in 2012."
Florida Fish and Wildlife brought the 17-foot-7-inch, 164.5-pound python to the Florida Museum to study. The female contained a record 87 eggs.
The Florida record for a python is 18-feet 9-inches. Python removal agents (trained and paid by state agencies) eliminated the monster in 2020.
Scientists say non-native species like the python thrive in Florida’s mild climate without predators that evolved with the snakes.
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The USGS estimates there are tens of thousands of Burmese pythons in the Everglades. The nocturnal/crepuscular (active at dawn and twilight) reptile has effective camouflage and can stay in hiding for weeks before it needs to hunt for food again.
"It's really just an ongoing process that is going to take a long time," Biologist Travis Dubridge told FOX Nation about getting the invasive species under control. "And a lot of these species, we’re not going to be able to get rid of here in Florida."
Florida’s budget earmarked $3 million for python removal this year, according to DeSantis.
Year long effort
Florida Fish and Wildlife and the South Florida Water Management District encourages the public to take part in eradicating pythons all year long through the Python Elimination Program. The agencies offer online training and pays $10-$15 per hour to hunters up to 10 hours a day.
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Added incentives include:
- $50 for a four-foot python plus $25 extra for each foot over four
- $200 for a verified, active nest