An estimated 800 hunters signed up on Saturday for a month long "Python Challenge" at Big Cypress National Preserve in Florida. The hunters are part of a plan to thwart the current threat being posed by the snakes in the area.
The Burmese python is one of the sixth largest snakes in the world; they are also known to be detrimental to nearby surroundings. In addition to threatening bird and coyote populations, an invasion of pythons also poses a threat to Florida's dying panther population.
The "Python Challenge" started on Saturday in Florida and will run until February 10th. At the end, an award will be offered to whoever bags the longest python and whoever bags the most pythons. Of the 800 volunteers, 749 are typical residents who have no license to hunt pythons on public land, according to the Associated Press.
"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 according to the AP. The snakes are capable of growing up to 20 feet. The best advice though, that more experienced hunters could offer to rookies was not to get bitten and not to shoot any humans in the process.
Even those who weren't local to the area, show up to participate in the event.
"For me, I take back to my friends and community that there is a beautiful environment out here," Steffani Burd of Melbourne told the AP. She was unable to catch any snakes on Saturday, but was keeping optimistic. "It's opening the picture from just the python issue to the issue of how do we protect our environment."