The annual Florida Python Challenge will begin in August. The Sunshine State is looking for snake hunters who might be interested in winning thousands of dollars in prizes while chasing invasive Burmese pythons. The state recently opened registration for the annual competitive hunt, which is set to take place starting at 8 a.m. on August 5 and will run until 5 p.m. on August 14.
The annual 10-day event is run with the cooperation of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and South Florida Water Management District every year, and interest in the event is steadily growing. Last year's event drew over 600 people from 25 states to participate in python removal. It was also successful in helping with the conservation of the Everglades. According to the FWC, people captured 223 pythons last year. There are professional and novice categories, so literally, anyone can participate in the giant snake hunt.
The only requirement is that participants pay a non-refundable $25 entrance fee and pass a required online training course on the safe capture of pythons. The challenge also has plenty of resources on its website for looking for and locating the snakes in the vast swamps of Florida.
Registered participants will choose seven different public areas to pursue the reptiles. The areas for the competition this year are as follows:
- Big Cypress Wildlife Management Area
- Everglades and Francis S. Taylor Wildlife Management Area
- Southern Glades Wildlife and Environmental Area
- Frog Pond Public Small Game Hunting Area
- Holey Land Wildlife Management Area
- Rocky Glades Public Small Game Hunting Area
- Rotenberger Wildlife Management Area
According to the Journal of Herpetology, the Burmese python became a popular pet between 1996 and 2006, leading to 90,000 snakes being imported into Florida. That wouldn't be an issue if Florida were southeast Asia, where the Burmese python originates from. Unfortunately, the python is an invasive species in the Sunshine State. They have few predators, leaving these slithery apex predators free to (literally) swallow up all kinds of endangered species across the state's fragile Everglades ecosystem.
Since the invasive pythons were introduced to parts of Florida, they have been wreaking havoc on the natural ecosystem of the greater Everglades area. The giant snakes kill and eat wildlife like opossums, squirrels, rabbits, raccoons, and even deer. They also compete with native wildlife for natural prey items like rodents. As if that wasn't bad enough, a large female can lay huge clutches of eggs that exacerbate the problem over time. So, competitions like this one are becoming needed more to combat what is becoming a huge problem.
And the snakes are getting bigger. Last month the Conservancy of Southwest Florida announced python hunters had captured and killed an 18-foot, 218-pound female snake in the Picayune Strand State Forest. When they cut her open, they found 122 partially developed eggs inside.
If you are interested in participating in this year's challenge, visit the Florida Python Challenge website.