Snakes are slithering all over Florida’s Everglades, and state officials are putting a foot down (perhaps cautiously) and issuing a month-long competition to weed out some of the pythons in the area.
Florida’s Everglades welcome snake hunters for the 2016 Python Challenge to reduce the population of Burmese pythons in the area. The person who gathers enough of these animals from the Everglades, dead or alive, will win cash, according to CNN. The person who has the longest snake will also take home a prize.
These types of snakes cause great harm to the local ecosystem because they simply do not belong in the Everglades. The Everglades became the home for these snakes, originally from Asia, because they were once exotic pets bred in Florida. A natural disaster, namely a hurricane in 1992, destroyed a breeding facility. The Burmese pythons escaped into the wild and have infested the Everglades. Owners have also dumped their unwanted pet snakes into the Everglades once they can no longer handle them.
Florida has since put certain restrictions on people who want to keep Burmese pythons as pets. Those who break the law can be heavily fined or do jail time if convicted.
Dumped or escaped serpents thrive in the climate and habitat of the Everglades, and now they have pretty much taken over the area. They eat anything from mice to alligators.
While it may seem like such a big snake should be easy to spot and capture, these animals are very elusive and hard to catch, according to the U.S. Geological Survey website.
“Even though it seems like such a large snake would be easy to find or see, only a very small fraction of pythons present in the park are ever detected. Their cryptic coloration; hide, wait, and then ambush behavior; the dense low vegetation that helps conceal them; and seasonal inundation of the landscape, (are) limiting human access.”
The animals are so hard to find in the Everglades that there are no reliable estimates on how many there are in the wild.
Some snake hunters are having a hard time finding anything in the Everglades to add to their serpent bags, but they weren’t giving up just yet. In 2013, the competition saw only 68 pythons from 1,600 hunters. This year, there are far less hunters participating in the hunting competition.
One hunter, Michael Brady, told the Los Angeles Times that he knows how badly the animals have damaged the local wildlife.
“I’m a hunter, and they are killing everything off,” Brady said. “‘Coons, possums, rabbits — anything that’s small. They’re getting deer too.”
The U.S. Geological Survey confirms the snakes have almost wiped out raccoons, rabbits, and opossums in the 1.5-million-acre Everglades National Park.
U.S. Geological Survey Director Marcia McNutt said, “Right now, the only hope to halt further python invasion into new areas is swift, decisive and deliberate human action.”
While the pythons need to be handled very carefully, they are not poisonous. They are constrictors, but they will still bite. Most of these animals are timid and will try to avoid humans, but some seem to be comfortable around humans (most likely from being handled as a pet).
The only natural predators of these huge pythons are the American alligator and humans. Six-hundred and twenty-eight of those humans are looking to bring in the biggest and the most of these serpents to grab a possible $1,500 prize.
[Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images]