More than 800 hunters are expected to compete for four-figure bounties for capturing one of the largest snake species in the world.
The Florida Python Challenge, held from August 5 to 14, invites hunters to remove invasive Burmese pythons, which can grow up to 20 feet in length, from public state land.
Florida is offering cash prizes for the snakes that range up to $2,500. Additional prizes will be given out to the hunters that bring in the longest pythons.
Hunters that kill the snakes inhumanely, or kill non-invasive species will be disqualified.
Pythons have established themselves across South Florida in Miami-Dade, Monroe, and Collier Counties – primarily within the Everglades wetlands. They are legal to hunt on private property year round, but the Python Challenge opens over 1.5million acres of public land to would-be snake hunters.
According to the Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission (FWC), pythons prey on local endangered species, such as the Key Largo woodrat.
They have also introduced several other nonnative species to Florida, including a parasite that lives in the lungs of reptiles.
'Other emerging disease risks, including nidovirus, may impact native species of snakes, but the extent or impacts of this virus on Florida's wildlife are not fully understood,' a spokesperson for the FWC told Metro.co.uk.
'When I was first learning about the pythons, I really had no idea how much they're devastating the local ecosystem,' Florida First Lady Casey DeSantis said at the event's kickoff. 'Every python removed is one less invasive species preying on our native birds, mammals, and reptiles.'
The First Lady also announced an additional $10,000 in prize money being donated by former rodeo champion and wildlife commissioner Ronald 'Alligator Ron' Bergeron.
Pythons are popular exotic pets, although they are now illegal to own in Florida. The population in the Everglades is believed to be descendent from escaped pets dating back to the 1980s.
In 2021, over 600 people from over 25 states removed a total of 223 pythons over the course of one week.
But the Python Challenge is only one way the FWC have tried to eliminate the snakes from Florida. The Commission has set up a Python Patrol, coordinated a python sighting hotline, and has even begun training detector dogs to help locate the snakes.
It's all part of a 'multifaceted approach to control pythons across the landscape', the FWC told Metro.co.uk.
Florida's budget for 2022 allocated $3million in funds for python removal, which the FWC calls 'a record investment'.
As an invasive species, hunters are not required to get a license to hunt pythons. However to take part in the competition, hunters must pay a $25 fee and take an online course to ensure the snakes are killed in a human way.
More than 16,000 pythons have been removed since 2000, but the serpents still prove hard to remove completely. A single female python can lay anywhere from 50 – 100 eggs at a time.
The FWC does warn people to take precautions around pythons due to their size. Although nonvenomous, adult pythons can regularly grow to enormous sizes and kill their prey by suffocation.
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