python huntress amy siewe
YouTube/Python Huntress Amy Siewe/a>

Meet Python Huntress Amy Siewe: Part Conservationist, Part Bounty Hunter

Amy Siewe spends her nights searching the swamps of the Florida Everglades for Burmese pythons. Once she spots one she goes in bare handed and grabs it behind the head. The strong, slithery creatures wrap themselves around her and sometimes lunge and bite. To Siewe, it's just another day at the office. We were able to catch up with her and inquire about her role as snake exterminator, and find out what it is she likes so much about the job.

First of all, Siewe never planned to be a python hunter. In fact, she already had a successful career in Indiana selling real estate, but she was always drawn to snakes. As a kid she would head to local creeks to seek them out. When she got older she took jobs where she could be close to them: an exotic pet store manager, an exotic vet tech, a breeder, an educator, and a volunteer at the Toledo Zoo in college. Once Siewe learned about the devastation invasive pythons were causing in the Everglades, she knew she had to be involved.

Pythons have completely disrupted the Everglades' ecosystem. They have no natural predators in the United States. The predators that keep Burmese pythons in check in Asia (such as tigers and larger snakes) are certainly not present in the Florida Everglades, where pythons have decimated small mammal and bird populations. The most severe declines in native species have occurred in the remote southernmost regions, where pythons have been established the longest. Marsh rabbits, cottontail rabbits, and foxes effectively disappeared, while populations of raccoons had dropped 99.3 percent, opossums 98.9 percent, and bobcats 87.5 percent since 1997, according to the USGS.

"They are the apex predators in the Everglades," Siewe said. "This environment is perfect for them. They thrive here and have no natural predators."

Burmese pythons became a problem during Hurricane Andrew in 1992, which destroyed a python breeding facility and sent thousands into the nearby ecosystem. The invasive species also became a problem because pet owners released them to the wild once they grew too big for captivity.

After learning about this situation, Siewe booked a trip to Florida in 2019 and went on a python hunt with renowned python hunter Donna Kalil. They caught what she described as "a beautiful nine-foot python." That was it for Siewe; she was undeniably hooked. She had found her passion, and subsequently moved to Florida within two months and never looked back.

"I knew this was absolutely what I was supposed to be doing," Siewe said. "Finally I can take this crazy passion that I have and use it as more than a hobby. I could actually make a difference in Florida with this colossal problem."

Since then she has been scouting the swamps for pythons, learning through experience to be the best python eradicator she can be. She's had frustrating days and glorious days, but no day is the same.

"You just never know what is going to happen," Siewe said. "All of these pythons are different. For the most part they fight. Some don't fight quite as much but some are pretty nasty and try with all their might to bite."

The part that gets Siewe's adrenaline pumping the most? Wrangling unruly pythons with her own two hands.

"It is such a challenge," she said. "It is not scary to me. It is exciting to me. Some people wear gloves but I don't wear them because with them I don't have the dexterity I need to have with gloves on. I need to be able to control them. When I am jumping on these pythons, when they are over about twelve feet, you need a strategy."

Siewe has caught her share of pythons larger than that, including a fifteen-footer she caught solo last summer and a seventeen footer, which was her personal best and also a solo catch.

"I am living my best life," Siewe said. "Being a python hunter is one of the most thrilling things I have ever done."

She compares it to people who have a natural talent for art or music.

"It is just something that is in me for whatever reason—my thing is snakes," she said. "I have always been fascinated by them. For the people that know me, dropping everything to be a python hunter made sense."

There are only 100 contracted python hunters in the entire world, and of those, only 15 of them are women. The contracted python hunter program is just one method the state of Florida is using to combat these invasives. Another is the Florida Python Challenge—a contest open to the public where python hunters compete to see who can bag the largest number of these nonvenomous snakes.