There are monsters hidden in the swamps of Florida. No, I’m not talking about the native alligators that prowl in the night. Nor am I talking about the water moccasins, diamondback rattlers, or coral snakes. I’m talking about pythons. Ball, Burmese, and North African. Non-native species that have proliferated and now threaten the native wildlife. They’re big monsters, too. Average size is over five feet long, reaching over fifteen feet long and are able to eat full grown alligators. (Sometimes with devastating indigestion. I’ll let you look up the picture.)
Burmese Python in the Everglades
14 foot long North African python
They’re not alone either. They’ve also brought their friends, the green and the yellow anaconda. They like the weather too.
Sounds like a bad B-rates sci-fi/horror flick doesn’t it? It’s not, but it has the potential to be.
Enter the 2013 Python Challenge.
From January 12th to February 10th, Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Commission will host a registered harvest event of these invasive snakes. Basically an open hunt. If you are over the age of 18 all you have to do is take the online training (a PDF tutorial on snake identification), pay the $25 entrance fee, and register. If you are under 18, you must get parental permission, have a valid Florida Hunter’s License, and management area permit in addition to the items listed for those over 18.
Don’t think that you can hunt just anywhere though. The FWC has three specified areas for the harvest and serious repercussions if you hunt outside of them.
Like all great hunting events, there is money to be made at the Python Challenge.
$1500 award for the highest amount harvested.
$1000 award for the largest python killed. (They say captured, but they also say do NOT trap and transport any live pythons.)
FWC already has a company on hand to buy their choice of skins at $80 to$100 per skin or tan any skin the hunter chooses to keep. Yes the tanning will cost the hunter extra.
This is where scene of Jaws jumps into my mind. You know, the one where all the fishermen invade the island in order to kill the shark and claim the prize. They bounce off each other, chumming willy-nilly, and tossing dynamite into the water without even a hint of a shark nearby. Now throw into that mix the cast of Swamp People speaking in their regional colloquialisms as they tool around in the everglades, and one or two utterly demented people who feel this overwhelming urge to, “be one with the snake” and swim with it in its natural habitat. If this doesn’t sound like a poorly written horror flick, I don’t know what does.
The truth is that while there will always be a certain number of idiots who get lost, suffer dehydration, or do something utterly stupid, most of the hunters will be responsible, practical people and will act accordingly. They will protect the native wildlife, have some great stories to tell, and maybe make a few bucks as well.
When it comes to the pythons and anacondas themselves, I would be lying if I didn’t say I wasn’t a little torn on the subject. These snakes did not come here of their free will. They were dropped off and abandoned by irresponsible, idiot owners who were too lazy to try to sell or drop off their unwanted pet to the pet store or animal shelter. These abandoned “pets” reproduces and now their offspring are trying to survive without realizing they are destroying the native habitat. We get to deal with the consequences of the actions from those that will never have to pay for their irresponsibility.
The hunt itself might well be the fairest hunt I can think of. True the snakes aren’t packing heat, but while the hunters are focused on the pythons and anacondas, they have to keep an eye out for the other hunters out there. Venomous snakes like the water moccasin and diamondback rattler as well as the all the alligators roaming around in the hunting zones. This might be the one place where the hunter is also the hunted.
eastern diamondback rattlesnake
Florida and FWC have made it clear that every snake is to be killed humanely and that there will not be a party at the end of the challenge, but an unceremony where they educate the public of the dangers of invasive species and the threat they pose to the native habitat.
In the end, the defining moment in this possible monster movie is the fact that we caused these monsters to arrive in the first place.