With native wildlife in jeopardy, Florida officials are going to great lengths in their attempt to stem the population of Burmese pythons slithering around the Everglades.
On Saturday January 12, more than 800 hunters heeded the call, signing up for Python Challenge 2013, hoping to win some bounty money for catching one of the reptiles. A $1,500 prize will go to anyone killing the most pythons, and $1,000 for the longest. The hunt goes through midnight on February 10.
Although the number of invasive pythons decimating native species in the Everglades isn’t known for sure, the problem seems to have intensified since Hurricane Andrew washed away a Quonset hut full of the creatures in 1992, according to the Miami Herald.
"If you look at a logarithmic scale, you are talking tens of thousands of them," wildlife biologist Joe Wasilewski told the Miami Herald. However, he added, the snakes are hard to spot, and it takes an experienced hunter to ferret one out. Given that many of the hunters—837 to be exact, according to the Miami Herald—are not experienced, he was not sure it would make much of a dent in the population.
"Even if they catch 200 or 300 snakes, it's insignificant compared to the overall population," Wasilewski said. "But any female they take out, that's minus 30 eggs. Every one you pull out, it's one less for reproduction. I hope they pull out a lot, but I don't think they will."
The problem reared its head last year with the capture of a 17-foot python holding 87 eggs. The previous January, a study had revealed the extent of the beasts’ effects on wildlife, finding several species near the point of extinction in Everglades National Park, all eaten by pythons. They included bobcats, whose numbers were down 87.5 percent; opossums, down 98.9 percent, and raccoons, down 99.3 percent, according to the study reported in the journal PNAS: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.