17 reptiles have been seized so far in Florida’s Python Challenge, which began on Saturday, January 16, and will unfold until Sunday, February 14.
The first edition of this contest took place 3 years ago, and was organized by Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
While it might appear incongruous at first that an agency responsible for protecting animals has launched a campaign to reduce the population of a reptile species, the explanation is simple.
Burmese pythons are actually considered invasive predators, and have so far been responsible for a significant dwindling in the number of native species.
While closely monitoring population trends among local wildlife, experts have come to the conclusion that in the Everglades National Park, rodents and other small mammals have experienced a decline.
As explained by “Alligator” Ron Bergeron, Florida Fish and Wildlife commissioner and of the region’s most instantly recognizable business magnates, there are two possible explanations for the fact that Burmese pythons have reached the Everglades.
Since the natural habitat of this reptile species consists of tropical and subtropical regions from South and Southeast Asia, it’s likely that people brought such pythons into the United States as pets.
Afterwards, they either set them free purposefully, or they were separated from them following natural disasters, such as Hurricane Andrew from August 1992.
The constrictor snakes had no trouble thriving in Florida’s Everglades, given the fact that they were the region’s apex predators, having no other animals above them in the food chain.
As a result, their numbers have risen dramatically, negatively impacting the local population of rabbits, bobcats, raccoons, and also causing a downswing among much larger creatures, such as bears, deer and cougars. That’s why the Python Challenge was initiated, and back in 2013 it resulted in the capture of 68 such snakes.
This year it appears the competition will yield even more impressive results: 768 people from 24 states have signed up, shelling out $25 in order to take part in the hunt, and in just 3 days 17 pythons have already been nabbed, according to a statement issued by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission on Tuesday, January 19.
The yield may seem poor at first, given that so many hunters have been actively searching for Burmese pythons in areas located around the Everglades National Park.
And yet, local authorities are actually happy with results so far, given the fact that the reptiles are incredibly hard to spot, despite reaching lengths of up to 20 feet and weighing even 200 pounds.
The pythons’ earth-hued skin patterns provide them with the perfect camouflage, while the heavy mud where they usually lurk offers them an extra layer of protection.
There are several ways in which the snakes can be captured: the most dangerous and also the most spectacular one involves ambushing the quarry from behind, and leaping on it, firmly securing is head.
Trapped this way, the python can no longer bite, and also doesn’t have time to coil itself around his attacker, in order to strangulate him or her. Alternative methods of securing a successful hunt involve using a gun or a machete.
The Python Challenge promises a multitude of prizes to individual hunters or others who participate as a team. For instance, the hunter to ensnare the highest number of snakes on the designated hunting grounds will be rewarded with $3500, while the team that achieves the same goal will get $5000.
Other trophies will be offered to the runner-ups, while catching the longest python in the competition will result in a $1000 prize for individuals, and in a $3000 premium for teams.
Image Source: Flickr