With estimated numbers in the tens of thousands, Florida pythons have become a serious problem for residents of the state. In fact, state wildlife officials said that there could be as many as 100,000 pythons in the swamps around Miami — that’s a lot of snakes.
“It’s an amazing challenge to try to come out and hunt these big snakes,” competitor Dennis Jordan told CNN.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) announced Saturday that its month-long contest had come to a close with 1,600 hunters from across the country competing toward capturing the most Burmese pythons in the Florida Everglades. Sixty-eight Burmese pythons were captured during the 2013 Python Challenge and top hunters received as much as $1,500 for their hard work.
The FWC competition was intended to raise awareness about the implications of outside species invading the state’s precious ecosystem.
FWC executive director Nick Wiley said, “Thanks to the determination of Python Challenge competitors, we are able to gather invaluable information that will help refine and focus combined efforts to control pythons in the Everglades.”
Millions of acres of swamp and sawgrass were covered by the 1,600 hunters during the event.
Justin Matthews, a hunter that competed in the challenge, said, “You can go out there for days and days and days and not see one python… I don’t care how much experience you have. It is going to take some luck.”
The python population in Florida has been growing since the late 70s. It’s suspected that the growing population was initially due to pet owners abandoning the snakes when they grew too large to properly maintain. Because the species have no natural predators, they continue to reproduce — something that in recent years has been a major concern of Floridians.
According to The Miami Herald, Ruben Ramirez of Miami won the competition by capturing 18 pythons over the course of 27 days. His team searched over 500 miles of territory and spent nearly $2,500 on food and fuel in order to catch the 18 snakes.
Ramirez’s team, the Florida Python Hunters, won $1,500 for catching the most Florida pythons, and another $1,000 for the longest snake, coming in at 10 feet, 6.8 inches.