For a month-long period early next year, the public will have the chance to compete for two prizes worth $1,000 and $1,500 in an effort to remove the invasive Burmese Python species from Florida’s wilds. The 2013 Python Challenge will entail an educational seminar for all registered hunters to help them identify the species and teach them how to kill the snakes humanely.
Hosted by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC), the Python Challenge kicks off on January 12 at the University of Florida’s Davie campus, where a daylong open house will take place on Burmese Pythons and other invasive species. Hunting will commence afterward and conclude on February 10. Six days later, on Feb. 16, the winners will be announced at Zoo Miami. A $1,000 prize goes to the hunter who harvests the largest python while $1,500 is reserved for the hunter who bags the most snakes.
The competition is open to anyone. You do not have to be a resident of Florida, nor do you have to hold a hunting license (with the exception of participants under 18, who must hold a valid license).
“Part of the goal of the Python Challenge is to educate the public to understand why nonnative species like Burmese Pythons should never be released into the wild and encourage people to report sightings of exotic species,” said Kristen Sommers, head of the FWC’s Exotic Species Coordination Section, in a press release. “We also expect the competitive harvesting of Burmese Pythons to result in additional information on the python population in south Florida and enhance our research and management efforts.”
View a video from the FWC detailing the contest and why it’s necessary for it to take place.
Registration costs $25, but the kickoff and award ceremony events are free. Pythons will only be able to be harvested from designated Wildlife Management Areas (WMA). The event will not take in place in Everglades National Park, which houses the largest population of pythons, as hunting is not allowed on park grounds.
Burmese Pythons have been known to inhabit south Florida since the mid-1990s. In 2006-2007 the population saw its greatest increase and wildlife officials believe there are currently anywhere between 5,000 and 180,000 Burmese Pythons living in the Everglades alone. A report by University of Florida researchers details how the python problem got so bad:
An inexperienced snake keeper who takes home a 50-centimeter (20-inch) hatchling is, within a year, responsible for a brawny 2.4-meter (eight-foot) predator. Unable to handle their giant snakes, and unable to find new homes for them, some owners illegally release them into the wild. Released and escaped Burmese Pythons are now breeding in the wild, and their growing numbers may result in dire consequences for native wildlife and ecosystems in South Florida.
Find more information and register for the event at www.phythonchallenge.org.