Wednesday, July 18, 2018
Opinion

Ruth: No good will come from amateur python hunting

And this, dearest reader, is why this state is known as Flori-duh, which is an old Spanish term for, "Oh boy, what did they do now?"

In its infinite wisdom, somebody — the parking lot attendant, perhaps? — at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission stumbled upon the brilliant idea to create the "Python Pickup Program" to ease the growing menace of the nonindigenous reptile. There's just one teensy-weensy problem with all this, of course.

Burmese pythons are not all that enthused about being — ahem — picked up. But let's press on.

As the Tampa Bay Times Craig Pittman has noted, over the years the FWC has attempted a variety of efforts to cull the python cartel to little or no effect. Professional python hunters have been enlisted. The agency has tried to train people on the arcane art of capturing the critters. Even tribesmen from India, who presumably know a thing or two about wrangling a slithering, humorless snake, have been recruited. And yet the box score remains: dead pythons — about 200; pythons continuing to snicker at the hunters — between 15,000 and 150,000.

Or think of the FWC as sort of Mother Nature's answer to the hapless Washington Generals, the long-time foil of the Harlem Globetrotters.

Now this. The FWCs "Python Pickup Program" essentially invites rank amateurs, with no experience in tracking down and killing the snake, to take to the wilderness to try their hand at a reptile safari. If someone in the intrepid python posse actually manages to bring a snake to justice and submits a photo of the kill to the FWC, they will receive a free "Python Pickup" T-shirt and be eligible for other prizes as well.

Talk about fun for the whole family!

You know where this is headed. This is Florida, after all, which is an old Spanish term for "Gooberville."

Soon the state's parks, the Everglades and other open areas are going to be alive with the sounds of rubes schlepping across the land, armed with kegs of beer and oversized pillowcases, in search of that oh so prized T-shirt trophy. Ambition. It's a wonderful thing.

Festus and Jethro and Billy Bob Billy Bob, who collectively possess all the expertise in capturing massive snakes as Elmer Fudd does as a fearless rabbit hunter, will take to the hinterlands unencumbered by knowledge to ferret out a creature that by any standard is regarded as a killing machine.

According to the National Geographic Society website, a fully mature Burmese python can grow to as much as 23 feet in length and weigh more than 200 pounds. And while not venomous, they also possess extremely sharp teeth, which are used to bite and hold on to its prey until the snake can crush its victim — even one wearing a John Deere cap — for dinner.

Who is really going to be hunting whom once Cletus, Homer and Gomer set out on their great python crusade, perhaps proving the veracity of that old joke: What are a moron's last words? "Hey! Watch this!"

If experienced professional snake hunters have had a hard time reducing the python population, why would the FWC conclude that encouraging gullible people with little to no experience in handling a deadly snake will fare any better in bumping off the animal for the opportunity to win a $100 gas card?

Either the FWC is as witless as the unsuspecting chumps they are trying to recruit for the sake of a backpack, or they have a perverse sense of humor.

Imagine the funeral service.

"How did poor Bubba pass away again?"

"Uh, he was eaten by a Burmese python, who then died of indigestion. But he left me this snazzy T-shirt."

Oh, there are rules. In order to properly claim those treasured custom engraved Yeti tumblers, the FWC requires that novice hunters "humanely" dispatch the Burmese python to that Garden of Eden in the sky.

Just what that means isn't clear. Are these Hemingways of herpetology supposed to kill the pythons by reading the "Collective Speeches of Florida Gov. Rick Scott" to them until they lapse into a fatal coma?

Not only is the FWC sending unqualified people into the hinterlands to do battle with a highly dangerous creature whose sole reason for living is killing things. The agency apparently wants the faux hunters to read the snake a sort of Miranda warning of its humane rights before attempting to snuff it out.

Jimmy Joe? You're going to need a bigger pillowcase.

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