The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has announced the 2013 Python Challenge as part of its efforts to control the fast-growing population of Burmese pythons in the Everglades.
According to Florida wildlife officials, the fast growing population of pythons is threatening to wipe out the population of rabbits, foxes and bobcats in the Everglades National Park. Officials say that the Burmese pythons, due to their fast-growing numbers, are threatening Florida's ecosystem.
Researchers at Virginia Tech University, Davidson College and the US Geological Survey, reported earlier in the year that the population of rabbits and foxes have almost disappeared and that the population of other small animals such as raccoons, opossums and bobcats have dropped by as much as 99%.
FWC has announced a python contest as a way of getting help from the public to cull the python population estimated at "thousands."
The 2013 Python Challenge will begin in January. The FWC hopes it will help to increase awareness about Burmese pythons and how the species is a threat to Everglades ecosystem.
The Challenge, a month-long program during which members of the public will be recruited to help harvest the pythons from public lands, will start at 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the University of Florida’s Fort Lauderdale Research & Education Center.
According to CNN, Florida Wildlife Commission spokeswoman, Carli Segelson, said: "We are hoping to gauge from the python challenge the effectiveness of using an incentive-based model as a tool to address this problem."
Kristen Sommers, head of the FWC’s Exotic Species Coordination Section, said: “The FWC is encouraging the public to get involved in helping us remove Burmese pythons from public lands in south Florida. By enlisting both the public and Florida’s python permit holders in a month-long competitive harvesting of Burmese pythons, we hope to motivate more people to find and harvest these large, invasive snakes. The Python Challenge gives people a chance to sign up for a competition to see who can catch the longest or the most pythons.
“Part of the goal of the Python Challenge is to educate the public to understand why nonnative species like Burmese pythons should never be released into the wild and encourage people to report sightings of exotic species. We also expect the competitive harvesting of Burmese pythons to result in additional information on the python population in south Florida and enhance our research and management efforts.”
Florida Museum of Natural History
Researchers at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the University of Florida campus examine the internal anatomy of the largest Burmese python found in Florida to date.
A grand prize of $1,500 will be awarded to the python hunter who kills the most Burmese pythons in both the General Competition and the Python Permit Holders Competition. A prize of $1,000 will be awarded to the python hunter who kills the longest Burmese python.
FWC says road kills will not be eligible.
Participants will pay a $25 registration fee and complete an online training that focuses on safety while hunting pythons.
According to the Linda Friar, spokeswoman for the Everglades National Park, "It's very difficult to find these animals and we don't really have a good strategy on how to contain this population. This is a pilot to see if it will gain public interest in areas that you can hunt so that they would be able to remove and capture these snakes."
Officials say that Burmese pythons are native to Southeast Asia. Researchers at the University of Florida say they were first found in the Florida Everglades in 1979. They were confirmed an established species in 2000. Research indicates the Everglades population sprang from pets that either escaped from captivity or were abandoned by owners after they had grown too big for captivity.
The Everglades has an ideal climate and natural environment for pythons to thrive. Digital Journal reported that the largest Burmese python on record in the United States was found in the Everglades in August. The specimen was 17-foot, 6-inches and weighted 164.5 pounds. University of Florida researchers found 87 eggs inside it.
CNN reports experts believe there are "tens of thousands" of Burmese pythons in the Everglades. They prey on small animals such as wild rats. The largest prey ever documented for a Burmese python in the Everglades was a 76-pound deer. Digital Journal reported the deer was found in the stomach of a 16-foot python.
Digital Journal also reported that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service imposed a ban on importation of Burmese pythons and other species such as anacondas. Florida prohibits possession or sale of Burmese pythons for use as pets. Federal law also bans the importation and interstate sale of the species.
The park authorities have determined specific areas that the Python Challenge will cover. According to CNN, Everglades Park officials say they support "the state exploring various measures in order to reduce the populations outside the park," but they believe that killing the snakes will help.
Segelson said: "We want to make sure this is done in a humane way." The website for the competition lists several ways to kill a python "in a humane manner that results in immediate loss of consciousness and destruction of the brain." It recommends shooting the snake in the head or decapitating it with a machete.
Wildlife officials say that in addition to killing the snakes, "one of things that is very important to us is to educate the public about the Burmese python and how this species is impacting the state of Florida." Segelson added: "We're hoping to inform people... if they do have exotic pets that they understand the importance of not releasing them into the wild."
The contest begins January 12 and ends at midnight on February 10.