In Florida, it’s not rabbit or duck season — it’s snake season. The annual “Burmese Python Challenge,” a 10-day annual competition to kill as many invasive Burmese pythons as possible, begins Friday.
The killer of the most pythons wins $2,500, and the killer of the longest python wins $1,500. The runners-up for both of those categories win $750.
Participation in the challenge costs competitors $25 and 30 minutes of time to take a mandatory online training program.
Professional snake hunters bring a bevy of equipment to help them win the challenge, from hooks to carrying bags to lights that help hunters find the nocturnal Burmese pythons in the dark of night.
“When it comes to the challenge, it’s guns blazing. I’m trying to utilize all my equipment: little geo-trackers, four-wheelers. I’ve got swamp buggies, monster trucks with big tires on them. We outfit those with lights on and I’ll be able to access places the general public can’t get to,” Dusty Crum, who caught the longest python in last year’s challenge, said to NBC News.
Although competition is fierce, the snakes are fiercer, as is the danger they pose to the ecosystem. Burmese pythons, while not venomous, have hundreds of teeth and powerful jaws and muscles.
Prizes may be offered, but the “Burmese Python Challenge” is ultimately held for the public good — to preserve the native fauna of the Everglades.
“This isn’t a trophy hunt or a sport hunt. This is an environmental hunt. It’s hunting to save our environment. It’s a special feeling when it’s man versus beast, fighting for the environment,” Mr. Crum explained to NBC News.
The state subsidizes the challenge as ecological policy; the invasive pythons have wiped out populations of foxes, bobcats, raccoons and possums in the Everglades, and are even known to eat alligators.
“The Florida Everglades is an iconic habitat in Florida and removing Burmese pythons from this ecosystem is critical to the survival of the species that live in this vast wild area,” Rodney Barreto, chair of Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, told southwestern Florida PBS affiliate WGCU-TV.
While the first Burmese pythons were imported to Florida in the 1970s, the escaped population only boomed in the 1990s.
In 1992, Hurricane Andrew destroyed numerous python breeding facilities in the state, allowing more pythons to join those released by pet owners and breed new wild populations.