A Florida python hunt brought over 800 eager hunters to the Sunshine State Saturday, where they began to compete for $5,000 in prize money. Their prey is the Burmese python, which has been decimating wildlife in the Everglades for over 15 years.
The Florida python hunt commenced Saturday, with both those licensed to kill and transport the creatures alongside amateurs on their first hunt. The event is sponsored by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which will award $1,500 for whoever dispatches the most snakes and $1,000 for the largest snake. There are separate categories for the licensed and unlicensed hunters.
"Floridians and people from across the United States truly care about the Florida Everglades, and they are clearly eager to help us better understand and solve this problem," Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Chairman Kenneth Wright told USA Today. "When they harvest snakes, Python Challenge competitors will contribute to the current Burmese python research and management efforts."
Catching and killing the Burmese python will not be easy during the month-long hunt, however. The exotic snake can grow to over 20 feet, weigh over 200 pounds, and are camouflaged quite well in the Florida underbrush. Hunters are hoping to catch them basking in the sunlight for warmth during the cold months.
To combat this— and to inform amateurs new to the area and the snake— instructions were given at the hunt's beginning: wear sunscreen, take water, and avoid getting bitten by the venomous Eastern Diamondback rattlesnake. Hunters were also told to kill the snakes with a shot or knife blow to the head, not with decapitation.
"I grab him behind the head and stick the knife through his brain," Justin Matthews, a 55-year-old wildlife rescuer, told The Sun Sentinel. "End it quickly."
Though many hunters don't use guns because they are smelly and quite messy, other competitors will use firearms to dispatch the snakes.
"A shotgun, yes that gets it done right now," Rodney Irwin, the owner of Alligators Associates in Homestead, Fla. told USA Today. "If you had an option to take the animal to a veterinarian I believe the method they would use would be to put a drill to the back of the head and scramble the brain."
The invasive, exotic Burmese python kills off all rabbits, foxes, and hunted 90 percent of the raccoons, opossums, and bobcats in areas it is introduced to, according to a U.S. National Academy of Sciences study. It has no natural predators in the Everglades, and previous hunts have been fruitless.
This time, hunters registered at pythonchallenge.org, and the hunt ends midnight, Feb. 10. An awards event will take place Feb. 16 at Zoo Miami.
To see a Burmese python take on an American alligator, watch below: