The results of Florida’s first “Python Challenge” were announced over the weekend, and while the hunters and snakes got most of the attention, the ultimate winners were the conservationists at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) who came up with the public awareness campaign — proving just how difficult it is to rid South Florida’s swamps of the invasive, Burmese Python.
During the month-long Challenge that ran from January 12 through February 10, a total of 68 pythons were turned in by the 1,600 registered participants from 38 U.S. states, the District of Columbia and Canada.
To put those 68 takes in perspective, estimates of the Burmese python population in South Florida range from the tens of thousands to as many as 150,000. Their behavior, camouflage, and nature of their habitats combine to make them highly elusive — so much so, that the vast majority of hunters never even saw one.
Nevertheless, when it comes to stalking pythons, it appears that not all hunters are created equal.
In the General Competition for most snakes harvested, Brian Barrows turned in six, and in the Python Permit Holders Competition, Ruben Ramirez took 18. Each was awarded a $1,500 first place prize.
Paul Shannon’s 14-foot, 3-inch kill in the General Competition for longest python earned him a $1,000 prize, while Blake Russ won among Python Permit holders for his 11-foot kill. (Ramirez, who brought in a 10-foot, 6.8-inch snake, was initially named the winner over Russ, but both will keep their prizes.)
The exotic nature of the 2013 Python Challenge generated worldwide interest through coverage in print, broadcast and electronic media. From that perspective, the Challenge was a huge success despite the relatively few snakes actually taken.
Burmese pythons, many of which were former pets, are an invasive top predator for which South Florida ecosystems have no defense. The large constrictors have voracious appetites and like to dine on amphibians, reptiles, birds, and small mammals. While pythons typically don’t threaten humans, they have been known will go after larger animals, including deer and alligators. Native populations of mid-sized mammals, such as rabbits, racoons, and opossums have declined as the number of Burmese pythons has increased.
In 2011, the U.S. Geological Survey reported capturing the largest known specimen in the Everglades to date; at 17-feet, 7-inches long, it was carrying 87 eggs.
Florida prohibits possession or sale of Burmese pythons for use as pets, and federal law bans their importation and interstate sale.
The public can help the fight to control invasive species such as Burmese pythons by:
- Reporting sightings of exotic species to 888-IVE-GOT-1 or www.ivegot1.org. It’s helpful if you can submit a photo and location.
- Not releasing an exotic pet into the wild, and reminding others of the dangers of releasing nonnative species.
If you have an exotic pet that you can no longer care for, the Nature Conservancy has some recommendations.
Image: U.S. National Park Service