Python Challenge on the Wild Side

Article Courtesy: | By: Bill Sargent | Originally published: November 28, 2015 | Please click here for original article.  


Above: Devin Belliston and Blake Russ are shown capturing a Burmese python during the 2013 state-sponsored hunt in South Florida. They won prizes for the longest python and the highest number captured. They’ll be one of the teams to beat in the 2016 Python Challenge starting in January. (Photo: Devin Belliston/For FLORIDA TODAY)

Those with a quest for a little wild adventure might consider entering the 2016 Python Challenge in the Florida Everglades. It should make for some heart-pounding moments.

Officials with the sponsoring Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission expect the Jan. 16-Feb. 14 hunt to be more successful than a similar hunt in 2013 when 1,600 hunters bagged only 68 of the invasive reptiles. This hunt is expanding into the Everglades National Park, and more training of the hunters and other resources are being added.

FWC biologists acknowledge that the hunt only will have a small impact on the overall python population. But the real value is to create a greater public awareness of the danger of the snakes.

“Burmese pythons continue to be a significant issue in the Everglades,” said FWC commissioner Ron Bergeron of Fort Lauderdale. “We hope these efforts will increase sightings and removal of pythons over the long-term in this valuable ecosystem.”

The warm wetlands of the South Florida region are similar to the python’s native habitats in Southeast Asia. What’s more, the numbers have been compounded by the overabundance of food available to the snakes.

Prizes totaling $8,500 will be offered for the longest pythons and the highest numbers captured with $5,000 given in the team division and $3,500 in the individual category.

Individuals will pay a $25 entry fee and teams of two to five individuals will pay $75. Individuals under 18 years of age can participate but their parents or legal guardians must complete their registration, and they must hunt with adults.

Before registering each person must pass an online training course that takes 30 minutes to complete. More detailed personal training sessions also are available for the hunters and also non-hunters.

The personal training covers identification of Burmese pythons and how they can be safely and humanely captured.

The FWC will open 11 hunt areas within the Everglades. All will be open for the entire four weeks with the exception of the Big Cypress National Preserve, which will be open only the first two weeks.

All the sites, along with rules and registration forms, can be found at

Only Burmese pythons can be taken, and they must be removed alive in special double-seamed bags and secure containers.

Dead pythons will be accepted in some of the areas, however hunters must follow state-required euthanizing procedures approved by the American Veterinary Medical Association.

All pythons harvested must be transported to specific drop-off locations approved by the FWC. Live pythons cannot be removed from their bags or transport containers for public or private display, including use for public or educational presentations.

Strict rules for disqualification will be enforced, including submitting a snake originally possessed as a pet or for commercial use, or any snake improperly euthanized, or the posting of inhumane photos or videos on social media.

Because the hunt is being held in Everglades National Park, it has drawn strong criticism from PEER (Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility).

PEER contends it is illegal for anyone other than National Park Service employees or contractors to hunt animals inside Everglades National Park. Also, PEER pointed out that the park has not conducted environmental reviews, nor called for public comment.

PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch said his organization has petitioned the National Park Service to stop the hunt.

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