WEST PALM BEACH — A pilot program aimed at helping eradicate giant, nonnative Burmese pythons from South Florida has ended with 37 of the invasive constrictors being killed, wildlife officials said Tuesday.
Wildlife officials began issuing permits to snake experts in July in the first-ever state-sanctioned python hunt. Those permits, 15 in all, expired Oct. 31.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission hopes to restart the program next year with up to 50 permits issued to experts. The commission says it's pleased with the data collected so far.
"This was more about finding where they are and seeing if we can contain their expansion," Scott Hardin, the wildlife commission's exotic species coordinator, said Tuesday.
Meanwhile, licensed hunters in the state can continue to kill the pythons in designated areas, including portions of the Everglades around Big Cypress National Preserve.
"If you're in there hunting, and you see a python, you can kill it," Hardin said.
He said roughly half of the snakes killed during this initial permitted hunt were juveniles, confirming to experts that the snakes are reproducing in the wild. Information on locations where the snakes were killed also indicates they are possibly expanding their populations.
The number of pythons in the region has exploded in the past decade to potentially tens of thousands, though no one can say for sure how many are out there.
Officials say the constrictors can produce up to 100 eggs at a time. As they feed on birds, small rodents and other native species, the snakes are disrupting the ecosystem's natural balance.