The hunt is on to help rid the Everglades of a deadly invader, the Burmese python. More than 700 people from 32 states and Canada converged on Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Saturday to kick off the state-sponsored 2013 Python Challenge.
The giant snake is not native to Florida and poses a threat to the conservation of Everglades National Park. Amateur hunters flocked to Florida for the monthlong competition, drawn in part by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's bounty of $1,000 for the biggest snake and $1,500 for the hunter who kills the most snakes by Feb. 13.
“I literally have done nothing like python hunting in my entire life,” Internet start-up employee turned wannabe snake killer Andres Schabelmann told USA Today. “In New Orleans I used to hunt and fish a lot, but nothing like this. … There’s definitely a hunter side in all of us, but it’s mostly about conservation. I think there’s a myth out there that these two don’t go together. But that’s not always the case.”
Before they embarked, hunters were educated on the importance of carrying fresh water and sunscreen into the Everglades while learning how to avoid other deadly predators in the park, especially the venomous Eastern Diamondback rattlesnake.
They were also instructed on how on to kill the python, with a shot or stab directly to the head. Decapitation is not encouraged, as the nervous system of a Burmese python can keep the animal moving for up to an hour after the head is severed, according to The Telegraph.
Burmese pythons were first found in Florida in the 1980s but researchers blame Hurricane Andrew in 1992 for blowing more of them into the Everglades. That new population, in turn, reproduced to the point where some experts guess the huge snakes number in the tens of thousands.
They can grow up to 25 feet long and weigh 200 pounds, although their gift for stealth and camouflage render them nearly invisible to the naked human eye.
“There's pythons everywhere in the Everglades, but the chances of seeing them are slim," said Florida wildlife biologist Joe Wasilewsk. "A 13-foot python, you might only see two to three inches of it."
The Miami Herald reported that this time of year is especially favorable for anyone hoping to see a python because of the “sunny mornings after cool evenings.”
There are no natural predators to the pythons in this environment, one of the main reasons the population is inching northward and could soon stretch into the Carolinas. The deadly invader is not poisonous but has long teeth that can put quite a gash in a human arm. Burmese pythons can swallow an entire adult deer in one gulp.
“Humans have created this problem, so it is up to humans to correct it," hunter Chris Harmon said. "The Everglades have endured enough catastrophes without this. We are not in it for the prize or skins. We just want to do our part."