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.
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.
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.