Tuesday, June 19, 2018
News Roundup

Hunters vying for prize money in Florida's Python Challenge

TALLAHASSEE - A flourishing population of Burmese pythons in South Florida is devouring animals such as bobcats and opossums, and threatening endangered species. So the state devised a solution: offer cash for hunters to kill them.

More than 550 hunters from 30 states have signed up for a contest called the "Python Challenge," which begins Saturday and offers $5,000 in prize money for those who slay the longest and largest number of the invasive snakes. They'll troll 1.3 million acres (526,091 hectares), including part of the Everglades National Park, looking for snakes that the state says threaten the ecosystem and native wildlife.

"It sounds like a fun thing to do," said Adam Danker- Feldman, 24, a New York financial analyst who said he's never hunted and signed up based on a friend's suggestion. "He said, 'Book your tickets, this is going to be an adventure.'"

Burmese pythons, native to Southeast Asia, eat endangered animals in and around the Everglades, including the Key Largo woodrat, a brown and white rodent with a hairy tail found only in the Florida Keys.

Federal, state and local governments have spent more than $6 million in Florida since 2005 trying to control pythons and other invasive constrictor snakes, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

There are an estimated 30,000 pythons in the Florida Everglades, according the National Park Service website. Since 1995, the number that have been observed in the Everglades has "increased dramatically," according to the park service.

In 2010, Florida banned Burmese pythons from being acquired as pets. Last year, the Obama administration banned the snakes from being imported or sold across state lines.

The pythons are among 137 invasive species of reptiles and amphibians in Florida, the most in the world, according to a 2011 study by Kenneth Krysko, herpetology collection manager at the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville. Officials at the Everglades National Park this year found a 17-foot, 7- inch (5.4 meter) Burmese python with 87 eggs, both records.

The contest, which ends on Feb. 10, may provide useful data for scientists at the state Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission to show where the snakes, which usually grow between 6 and 9 feet, are living and what they're eating. That information can help with future removal programs, said Carli Segelson, spokeswoman for the conservation commission, which is running the event.

Greg Graziani, who runs his own reptile breeding facility in Venus, and hosted National Geographic's TV program "Python Hunters," said it takes an average of 92 hours to hunt one python outside of the hatching season in August and September. Graziani, who helped start a park program in 2009 that trains volunteers to capture live pythons, said it can be difficult to hunt the snakes. Hunters in Florida have killed fewer than five pythons in recent years, he said.

"We've done demonstrations where we'll take a 12-foot snake and set it in some brush that's no more than ankle-high and you can be three, four feet away and never see the animal," he said.

Florida is the latest state to offer cash for killing animals. Chippewa County, Minn., renewed a program last year for the first time since 1965 offering hunters $10 per coyote. In Utah, Gov. Gary Herbert signed a law in March increasing state bounties to $50, up from $20, for coyote ears. Hunters get $2 for wild pig tails in Caldwell County, Texas.

There has been no documented cases of wild pythons injuring humans, unlike domestic snakes, Segelson said. An Orlando-area couple, Charles Jason Darnell and Jaren Hare, was sentenced to 12 years in prison in 2011 when their 8-foot Burmese python escaped its cage and strangled Hare's sleeping 2-year-old daughter.

Elise Traub, director of wildlife protection for the Washington-based Humane Society, which describes itself as the nation's largest animal protection group, said the contest won't help control the snake population.

"Killing contests are ineffective and send the wrong message about wildlife management," Traub said.

The Florida contest is open to anyone who pays a $25 registration fee, signs a waiver of liability and reads a 36- page document that advises hunters to look for snakes basking in the morning sun along canal banks. The prize money comes from the fees and sponsors.

Graham Rogers, 24, who convinced Danker-Feldman to sign-up, said he got some tips from rattlesnake hunters in Kentucky, where he grew up. Rogers, a New York University law school student who last hunted about a decade ago, said he'll camp in the area when he's not pursuing snakes.

"A python is fairly dangerous," Rogers said. "There's definitely a turn-on about hunting something carnivorous that could, in theory, eat you."

Comments
Rays journal: Blake Snell outlasts Justin Verlander in 2-1 win

Rays journal: Blake Snell outlasts Justin Verlander in 2-1 win

HOUSTON — The starting pitcher walked seven over seven otherwise solid innings Tuesday. That seemed weird enough for the Rays. But then the next pitcher they brought in was the one who started Monday's game. Even more bizarre.And then there was...
Updated: 9 minutes ago
Rays’ Kevin Kiermaier returns, with energy to spare

Rays’ Kevin Kiermaier returns, with energy to spare

HOUSTON — Energy.That's what Kevin Kiermaier said he felt he'd bring most in rejoining the Rays Tuesday against the Astros after missing two-plus months recovering from thumb surgery."I like to think I bring energy on both sides of the ball, wh...
Updated: 3 hours ago
As Tesla races to meet Model 3 deadline, factory pressures and suspicions grow

As Tesla races to meet Model 3 deadline, factory pressures and suspicions grow

Tesla chief Elon Musk said last week that the company’s layoffs of 9 percent of its workforce wouldn’t affect production as the all-electric automaker races to build thousands of new Model 3 sedans a week.But documents the company filed days later wi...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Norris Trophy could be good consolation for Lightning’s Victor Hedman

Norris Trophy could be good consolation for Lightning’s Victor Hedman

Victor Hedman is talking from a hotel room in Las Vegas and admits he's a little jet-lagged."Actually, very jet-lagged," Hedman says.That's what happens when you take a flight from Sweden to the party capital of the world.But he knows exactly what he...
Updated: 3 hours ago

Hillsborough school district will pursue two kinds of local taxes

TAMPA — Hillsborough County School District officials took an important step Tuesday toward asking the voters to pay higher taxes for schools that, they say, are not getting enough money from the state.The board voted 5-0 to submit a tax referendum r...
Updated: 4 hours ago
New Port Richey man faces sexual battery charge

New Port Richey man faces sexual battery charge

NEW PORT RICHEY — A 33-year-old man was arrested Monday on a charge of sexual battery, accused of assaulting a 10-year-old girl.Jonathan Wells was booked into the Pasco County jail, where he was being held Tuesday without bail.The assault took place ...
Updated: 5 hours ago

House bill would detain families — togetherThe Republican House compromise bill on immigration would end the family separation issue at the border — but Democrats won’t support it. The bill mandates that the Department of Homeland Security hold any a...
Updated: 6 hours ago

WashingtonSenate approves $716B for 2019 military budgetThe U.S. Senate on Monday voted to give the military $716 billion for 2019, approving one of the biggest defense budgets in modern American history despite concerns from some economists and lawm...
Updated: 6 hours ago
For starters: Rays at Astros, with Kiermaier back and an ace-high matchup

For starters: Rays at Astros, with Kiermaier back and an ace-high matchup

UPDATE, 6:45: Cash said Smith will continue to play a lot, getting time in LF and RF, meaning something of a rotation system for rookie Johnny Field and veteran Carlos Gomez.UPDATE, 4:49: Kiermaier is batting leadoff and playing center as expected, w...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Romano: A Tampa Bay ‘superstar’ caught in the crosshairs of Trump’s border policy

Romano: A Tampa Bay ‘superstar’ caught in the crosshairs of Trump’s border policy

At this moment, she is Tampa Bay’s most influential export. A smart, accomplished and powerful attorney making life-altering decisions on an international stage.But what of tomorrow? And the day after?When the story of President Donald Trump’s border...
Updated: 6 hours ago