FORT LAUDERDALE — Nearly 400 people have signed up to enter the Everglades and do battle with Burmese pythons, the latest threat to South Florida's wildlife.
The 2013 Python Challenge begins Saturday and has attracted participants and media interest around the United States. The monthlong event features $1,000 prizes for catching the longest snakes and $1,500 for catching the most.
The event also has attracted some hostile attention of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
PETA contends that the sanction method for dispatching the snakes — decapitation — is "despicably cruel" and may violate state animal cruelty laws.
The group's letter to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the event sponsor, promotes "immediate destruction of the brain by gunshot."
Biologists hope people kill enough of the giant snakes to help the Everglades.
"This is a very serious threat indeed," said Stuart Pimm, an Everglades scientist and professor of conservation ecology at Duke University. "It could radically change the composition of the species that we find in the Everglades, and the Everglades have enough threats without the snakes. I think extreme measures are extremely appropriate."