Burmese python Python bivittatus snake swims in the water in a marsh in the Florida Everglades.
Getty Images, Lagunatic Photo

Florida Python Challenge Bags 209 Invasive Reptiles

Over 1,000 people participated in Florida's 2023 python challenge—and the winner snagged a $10,000 prize.

Florida's latest attempt to stop the spread of its invasive Burmese python population was a rousing success.

It might not sound pretty, but Florida's annual Python Challenge is about conservation. This year, people from all walks of life, including those who've never hunted the reptiles before, took the opportunity to help rid Florida's Everglades of a harmful invasive species. And some walked away with cold, hard cash.

Why Pythons Are a Threat in Florida

Pythons prey on mammals, birds, and other reptiles, upsetting the delicate ecological balance of the Everglades. The snakes flourish in the warm, wet area, and populations are exploding: Female pythons can lay between 50 to 100 eggs. The large predators are impacting other natural predator populations; since they've arrived, rat populations have grown.

This year, writer, novelist, and python hunter Toby Benoit led a group of first-time hunters through the Everglades for the challenge.

"I remember the Everglades as being this wildlife wonderland," Benoit told The Palm Beach Post. "There were just herds of deer. You could go down to the levees, and you'd see bobcats, possums, raccoons, and birds, like out of a National Geographic study of Africa. It was just amazing."

Now the area has become a "ghost town." Benoit has been hunting the invasive species for five years, with a singular focus.

"I think the best advice I received was don't focus on looking at everything to be a snake; start focusing on everything that doesn't look like a snake," Benoit said. "They have the greatest camouflage pattern in all of nature."

The 2023 Florida Python Challenge by the Numbers

Two women capture an invasive python in Florida.

Florida Fish and Wildlife

The 10-day 2023 Florida Python Challenge drew 1,050 participants from 35 different states and Belgium, according to a press release. "It is great to see so many people participate in this year's Florida Python Challenge that brings awareness to removing invasive species from Florida's environment," said Roger Young, executive director of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).

First prize was awarded to Paul Hobbs, who removed 20 Burmese pythons and took home $10,000 in prize money for his efforts. Runner-up Ronald Kiger bagged 14 pythons and won $7,500. The final winner was in the military category: Justin Morgan removed seven pythons, winning $2,500. In total, 209 snakes were removed from the area over the 10-day challenge.

The Challenge as a Success Story

According to officials, more than 19,000 Burmese pythons have been removed from the area since 2000, and 11,000 in just the last four years, with the Challenge going far to raise awareness.

"Removing these invasive pythons is an important part of our efforts to protect the Everglades, and this competition allows people to get involved in Florida's conservation efforts for one of the world's most prized natural resources," said Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez. "I thank everyone involved in making the Florida Python Challenge a successful event year after year, and I congratulate the winners of this year's competition."

READ MORE: Florida May Soon Develop Safe Eating Guidelines for Invasive Burmese Pythons