Last update was only 21 killed and they were hoping to snag about 1500
Florida holds Burmese python hunt in Everglades, hoping to root out invasive species
The competition, which runs through Feb. 10, attracted roughly 1,000 python hunters, but only 21 have been caught so far.
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
FRIDAY, JANUARY 18, 2013, 2:52 PM
IN THE FLORIDA EVERGLADES
That’s the catch in Florida’s “Python Challenge”: Even experienced hunters with special permits to regularly stalk the exotic snake through Florida’s swamplands are having trouble finding them for a state-sponsored competition.
The vast majority of roughly 1,000 people who signed up to hunt Burmese pythons on public lands from Jan. 12 through Feb. 10 are amateurs when it comes to pythons. Only about 30 hold permits for harvesting pythons throughout the year.
The permit holders might have a slight edge when it comes to handling snakes, but the tan, splotchy pythons have natural camouflage that gives them an important advantage in the ecosystem they have invaded.
As of Thursday, 21 pythons had been killed for the contest, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
It’s hard to pin down exactly how many Burmese pythons slither through Florida’s Everglades, but officials say their effect is glaringly obvious. According to a study released last year, sightings of raccoons, opossums, bobcats, rabbits and other mammals in the Everglades are down as much as 99% in areas where pythons are known to live.
It’s believed that the pythons are devouring the native wildlife and officials worry the snakes’ voracious appetite will undermine the ongoing, multimillion-dollar effort to restore natural water flow through the Everglades.
“Rabbits were like rats. Growing up, you saw them everywhere,” said Jim Howard, a Miami native and a python permit holder participating in the contest. “I haven’t seen a rabbit in 20 years. I don’t see foxes. I hardly see anything.”
He has caught a python in the Everglades in each of the last two years, though. Each was more than 12 feet long and contained more than 50 eggs.
The population of Burmese pythons, an invasive species in Florida, likely developed from pets released into the wild, either intentionally or in the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew in 1992. They can grow to be more than 20 feet long and have no natural enemies in Florida other than very large alligators or cold weather, which drives heat-seeking snakes onto sunny roads and levees.
Florida prohibits owning or selling pythons for use as pets, and federal law bans importation and interstate sale of the species.
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