Everglades Python Challenge: the hunt for an invasive species

burmese python

Over the weekend, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission kicked off an annual initiative to rid South Florida of the invasive Everglades python. The challenge began Saturday January 16, when the sunshine state launched an incentivized hunt that will last all month.

The python in question, the Burmese Python, belongs far away from Florida (in Southeast Asia to be exact), which is why the state will award cash prizes to two captors: a reward for whoever catches the most snakes and another for whoever catches the largest one. Burmese pythons can reach 23 feet in length and 200 pounds in weight.

And though the python is adjusting quite nicely to the Everglades habitat, the Everglades is not adjusting well to its presence. Since these snakes have no predators other than the American alligator and the Florida panther, they can feed on most anything in their path. This results in the depletion of the area’s rabbit, opossum and raccoon populations. It also affects defenseless endangered species like certain wading birds or small mammals.

But the threat of the Everglades python doesn’t stop there. Because Burmese pythons house a high concentration of mercury in their bodies, they can poison the predators that eat them. This means the already endangered Florida panther and the American alligator, otherwise known as “the king of the Everglades,” are also at risk. Essentially, the invasive existence of the Burmese python poses detrimental changes to the delicate Everglades ecosystem.

With the 2016 Python Challenge, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission hopes to rid the Everglades of these nuisance snakes. But this accomplishment is easier said than done. Dubbed a “high-risk species” by the U.S. Geological Survey, Burmese pythons are so difficult to eradicate due to their elusive nature and the camouflaged Everglades terrain in which they thrive. For instance, the 2013 Python Challenge consisted of 1,600 hunters who caught a total of 68 snakes. Only 600 participants registered for this year’s hunt, and the results are to be determined.

Although no concrete data exists to prove just how many Burmese pythons now reside in the Everglades, experts believe there are tens of thousands of the snakes in wild Florida. And the USGS attributes this infestation to humans. Believe it or not, people once kept these monstrous snakes as pets. When Hurricane Andrew hit in 1992, multiple Burmese pythons escaped from a breeding facility and made their way to the Everglades. Python owners are also known to release their pets into Everglades wilderness.

Everglades Python Safety

Though unprovoked attacks are rare, Burmese pythons have struck humans before. React to an Everglades python the way you would react to an alligator. Remember to back away slowly and keep your eyes trained on the snake. It’s important to read the animal’s body language to observe any signs of aggression. Hissing and thrashing could mean an impending attack.

Do you have what it takes to catch an Everglades python?

Before participating in the 2016 Python Challenge, you need to learn about the animal, the environment and how to catch it. First, complete the 30-minute training module found on the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission website. Then, complete the 10-question quiz. You must receive an 80 percent or higher to register. The cost to participate is $25 for an individual or $75 for a team.

Don’t have what it takes to catch an Everglades python?

Hunting pythons isn’t for everyone, but there are other ways to enjoy Everglades wilderness. If you’re not ready for a python hunt, opt for an Everglades airboat tour. This family-friendly activity puts you a safe distance from Everglades pythons while exposing you to the beauty of an ever-changing ecosystem. To book your Everglades airboat tour, contact Captain Mitch’s Everglades Airboat Tours at 239-695-3377.