The 2016 Python Challenge is shaping up to be bigger, better, and more effective in every way over the 2013 hunt. Officials with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) announced additional details for the hunt this week and confirmed that the 2016 season will cover even more ground.
According to a press release from the agency, the FWC is working with several state and federal land management departments to expand the hunt across Everglades National Park and other public land areas.
“We’re launching the 2016 Python Challenge because Burmese pythons continue to be a significant issue in the Everglades,” said FWC Commissioner Ron Bergeron. “We hope these efforts will increase sightings and removal of pythons over the long-term in this valuable ecosystem.”
The hunt’s sole target is the Burmese python, a large and highly invasive species that has already had a widespread impact on the Everglades. The park’s warm wetlands are a close match to the python’s native forests in Southeastern Asia. The lack of predators and overabundance of food has led to the python quickly colonizing the Everglades, and officials can only guess at how many snakes are currently living in the park.
FWC biologists acknowledge that, at best, the hunt will only have a slight impact on the overall python population. The true value of attracting hunters to the Everglades is creating public awareness of the danger that the snakes pose. Last year more than 1,500 hunters swarmed state lands to hunt the snakes, but only harvested a mere 68 pythons. Officials hope that with training and the proper resources, this year’s haul will be much bigger.
“I hope that our increased participation this year will engage the public and highlight the scientific work that is being done to care for our public lands,” said Everglades National Park Superintendent Pedro Ramos.
The hunt is expected to run from January 16 to February 14. Cash prizes for the longest snakes and most pythons caught is also expected to return.
Images courtesy Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission