The battle to control Burmese pythons in the Everglades has employed an array of tactics, including snake-sniffing dogs, GPS-equipped "Judas" snakes and teams of state-licensed reptile wranglers.
Florida wildlife managers on Monday announced a new approach: a snake-hunting contest offering cash prizes.
The Python Challenge, scheduled to begin next month, will pay $1,500 for the largest number of snakes and $1,000 for the longest one in two categories. One would include 70 or so licensed python hunters and the other would be open to anyone willing to pay a $25 registration fee, take a half-hour online identification course and — it probably goes without saying — sign a liability waiver.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission touts the month-long contest as a way to raise awareness about the threat the exotic constrictors pose to wildlife in the Everglades and potentially put a dent in their population. Scientists estimate that thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of the once-popular pets live in the wild.
Carli Segelson, a spokeswoman for the FWC, said the agency believes the online training and additional tips offered at a kick-off event planned Jan. 12 at the University of Florida's research center in Fort Lauderdale will teach neophytes how to identify and safely capture large, potentially dangerous snakes. The largest Burmese python captured to date in Florida was a 17.5-footer that weighed 164 pounds. Typical pythons caught in the Everglades run from six to nine feet.
The contest is likely to appeal mostly to seasoned hunters. The online course, for instance, includes tips for humanely dispatching the snakes, which is a requirement. Some options include a gunshot to the head or decapitation with a machete, but that second method alone isn't enough to minimize pain, according to the contest website.
"Regardless of the technique you choose, make sure your technique results in immediate loss of consciousness and destruction of the Burmese python's brain," the euthanasia guide notes.
For rules and details, go to pythonchallenge.org.