Python Challenge Launched To Help Protect Florida Wetlands
December 9, 2012

Florida Officials Challenge Snake Hunters To Gather Pythons From The Everglades

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

Officials from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission are recruiting snake hunters in an attempt to protect the Everglades by reducing the population of the giant Burmese python.

Starting on January 12, 2013, both licensed and amateur snake hunters will be allowed to compete in what officials are calling the "2013 Python Challenge" -- a month-long competition which will offer cash prizes in order to encourage the hunting of the non-native reptile species, according to the AFP news agency.

The pythons, which are native to Southeast Asia and do not have any natural predators in the Everglades, have begun attacking "native birds, deer, bobcats and other large animals, some of them protected" for food, the French news agency said.

The first Burmese python, thought to have been an abandoned pet, was discovered in the Florida wetlands back in 1979, and now some estimate that there may be "hundreds of thousands" throughout the state, they added. State law currently bans the sale or possession of the creatures as pets.

Reuters reports that cash prizes of up to $1,500 will be offered to those who bring back the greatest number of reptiles, as well as the longest individual snake. The contest will offer separate awards for both permit-holding python hunters and the general public, and one additional prize will be awarded to a random recipient in each category.

Those wishing to take part will have to pay a $25 registration fee and complete an online training course, according to CNN's Kim Segal.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokesperson Carli Segelson told Segal that, through the competition, the organization was "hoping to gauge from the python challenge the effectiveness of using an incentive-based model as a tool to address this problem."

"Our goal is to help get rid of the python from the wild, educate the public about the snake´s impact on the Florida ecosystem, and inform them of what impacts non-native pets can have if allowed into the wild," Segelson also said, in a separate interview with ABC News reporter Joshua Gardner on Friday. She added participants could choose from a variety of different methods to do away with the pythons but had "an ethical obligation to dispatch the snake as humanely as possible."

The longest pythons will be purchased by Brian Wood, owner of All American Gator, a Hollywood, Florida-based company that "usually harvests wild alligators for use in clothing, accessories and furniture, and sells the products at the company´s showroom," Gardner said. Wood told ABC News that they will create similar products from the snake skins, and that they are offering upwards of $100 for pythons that are at least eight-feet in length.