Turns Out You Won’t Get Rich Hunting Pythons in Florida’s Swamps

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Melissa Farlow / Getty Images

A Burmese python crosses a Florida road. Most pythons are not this easy to spot.

The Python Challenge sounded like a pretty bad idea. In reality, it was probably worse than most people imagined.

Late last year, the state of Florida announced it would host a first-ever Python Challenge, a month-long contest in which participants are encouraged to patrol public hunting lands and kill non-native species of pythons. It’s been estimated that tens of thousands of these snakes now dwell in Florida’s swamps. The predators can easily reach lengths of 16 feet, and they’ve been blamed for the declining populations of rabbits, foxes, and raccoons.

To get rid of the invasive serpents, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission decided to call on anyone and everyone adventurous (read: crazy) enough to head into the swamps and hunt snakes. The challenge officially kicked off on January 12. According to the Sun Sentinel, at least 1,563 hunters registered for the contest, which promises cash prizes, including $1,500 for most Burmese pythons caught and $1,000 for the longest Burmese python caught.

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From the beginning, there have been skeptics. The Miami New Times described the challenge as “an idea straight out of the hormone-addled mind of a 14-year-old who plays too many first-person shooters,” and noted that critics “predicted the only casualties would be weekend warriors knocked out by dehydration and flying shrapnel.” Still, some 1,500 individuals decided the $25 entry fee was worth it, considering the possibility of winning the cash rewards.

Those who envisioned piling up pythons left and right are now sorely disappointed. The vast majority of hunters didn’t catch a single snake. By the time the final count has taken place, it’s believed that a grand total of 50 snakes will have been caught. Python Challenge organizers say they are pleased with the results. “One of the goals we set for this, when we started the project, was to increase awareness of the Burmese pythons and (their impact) on the Everglades ecosystem,” a researcher from the University of Florida, one of the event’s sponsors, said, according to the Daily News.

That goal probably wasn’t exactly what the hunters had in mind when they headed out into the swamps, knee-deep in water, machete in hand. “I wanna make some money, man.” That’s the reason a camo-wearing man named Jimmy Ferguson gave to the Miami New Times for why he was wading in the water with his 18-year-old daughter on the challenge’s first day.

Collectively, Ferguson and the rest of the hunters paid in the neighborhood of $39,000 in Python Challenge entry fees. Meanwhile, Florida will pay out just $8,000 in prize money, though organizers do offer suggestions for selling snake skins. Of course, only a tiny portion of participants have any skins to sell.

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And why haven’t more snakes been caught? “The reason people aren’t catching that many is they don’t have a clue where to look,” Kenneth L. Krysko, a researcher at the University of Florida Museum of Natural History, told the Sun Sentinel. “Look at all the yahoos coming down here.”

Tales of drunkenness and shenanigans have abounded, including a few reports of Python Challenge “yahoos” taking pot shots at native animals they’re not supposed to be hunting. Another reason given for the skimpy snake count is that participants were not allowed to hunt in Everglades National Park proper, which is believed to be a non-native python hot spot. We’ll all find out who won the Python Challenge prizes on February 16, when an awards ceremony is scheduled. Quite a few hunters already know that they’re not even in the running.

13 comments
Froglily
Froglily

*Maybe* they didn't find many Burmese because the estimates of 150,000+ snakes are wildly exaggerated. Additionally, the deep freeze in 2010 killed off a lot of animals. This whole "snakes are bad, kill the snakes" thing is completely out of hand.


oppoman55
oppoman55

Say, Brad from Massachusetts who teaches at UMass-Amherst., thanks for deciding this was a failure and silly and "yahoo" driven. This in fact might have been, well... fun! A real outdoors adventure and a positive attempt at improving the health of the Everglades. (Those from Mass. will normally approve anything, and at any cost, if it can claim to improve the environment) Relax and remember your elite position and that much of the country remains unwashed.


Steve

rrickall
rrickall

I have a dimm memory that in The Simpsons they had a Snake Whacking Day tradition- so not really a new idea. I also seem to remember that it didn't end well for the citizens of Springfield. I am tempted to add "only in America" but I suspect that we down under have had almost as silly ideas as well. Happy Python Whacking you'all!

midnitemgt
midnitemgt

hopefully the scientific community can figure out the best way to control the python population, because this was a  silly idea.

midnitemgt
midnitemgt

most were  idiots chasing there tails rather then the snakes who certainly were higher up on the evoluntionary scale.

vaj.nyiaj
vaj.nyiaj

Hunters will learn to adapt and figure the snakes out.  For the yahoos who are out just trying to find reason to get drunk, it won't happen, but for those serious, they learn from this and make this next hunt more successful.

wrathbrow
wrathbrow like.author.displayName 1 Like

I would count this as a huge success. It allowed people to take a shot at giving it a go. Most of them learned it ain't easy to find critters, because wild animals are good at not being caught. I would guess if they continued to do this, a handful or so might have the skills and long term desire to do better. 

All states have hunting seasons. It just takes practice for processes to get better.

DeweySayenoff
DeweySayenoff

@wrathbrow If the purpose of this was actually to teach idiots that hunting isn't for idiots, sure, it's a success.  But the whole idea behind it was to try to significantly reduce the number of pythons out there.  By THAT criteria, it was a screaming failure.

BobShafer
BobShafer

Wow, that is quite the money making scheme.  1500 people looking for snakes that are suppose to number in the 10's of thousands and yet only 50 were actually caught.  We are told that these snakes are responsible for the declining populations of rabbits, foxes, and raccoons, yet something tells me this is yet another example of hype from the Environmentalists.

JohnDavidDeatherage
JohnDavidDeatherage like.author.displayName 1 Like

The best way to control the python population is to disrupt the breeding cycle.  Females leave a scent trail (pheromones) for males to find and follow.  Confuse the males by adding the pheromone scents of false females.  Fewer male pythons will find real female pythons. Pythons will produce fewer young pythons each year.

Science need to identify and synthesize the pheromone scent of ready to breed female pythons. Distribute that scent randomly throughout the affected areas of the everglades.  Repeat each year until python population is eradicated. 

dkgolfer53
dkgolfer53

smart thinking.  why not suggest that to florida's dept of wildlife.

JackWhite
JackWhite

@dkgolfer53 It sounds like a good idea and probably not very expensive. Which means no govt entity will ever consider it.