Over 68 pythons have been discovered during a month long "Python Challenge" at Big Cypress National Preserve in Fla. aimed at ridding the area of the "invasive species."
The Burmese python is one of the sixth largest snakes in the world; they are also known to be detrimental to the Florida everglades. In addition to threatening bird and coyote populations, an invasion of pythons also poses a threat to the state's dying panther population, according to wild life officials.
"It's an amazing challenge to try to come out and hunt these big snakes," hunter Dennis Jordan told CNN Miami affiliate WSVN in the closing days of the 2013 Python Challenge
The "Python Challenge" started in January and ended Feb. 10. At the end, an award was promised to whoever was able to bag the longest python and to whoever managed to bag the most pythons. Over 800 volunteers turned up on the first day of the challenge.
"We feel like anybody can get out in the Everglades and figure out how to try and find these things," Nick Wiley, executive director of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, told the AP. "It's very safe, getting out in the Everglades. People do it all the time."
Training was held for less experienced snake hunters at the University of Florida in Fort Lauderdale just before Saturday's kick off. More than 2,050 pythons have been harvested in the Florida area since 2000. The snakes are capable of growing up to 20 feet. The best advice that more experienced hunters could offer to rookies was not to get bitten and not to shoot any humans in the process.
"Thanks to the determination of Python Challenge competitors, we are able to gather invaluable information that will help refine and focus combined efforts to control pythons in the Everglades," commission executive director Nick Wiley told CNN.
Hunter Brian Barrows of Fort Myers won a $1,500 grand prize in the amateur category for harvesting six pythons. Ruben Ramirez of Miami, who bagged 18 snakes, won the award for professional hunters. Paul Shannon of Lehigh Acres won $1,000 for the longest python, which stretched 14 feet, 3 inches. In total, over 68 pythons were killed.