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Count Sen. Bill Nelson in for Florida's next python hunt

Published Aug. 24, 2015

Count at least one hunter eager for the second round of Florida's official python hunt -- even though he didn't catch any last time.

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., 72, confirmed Monday that he plans to participate in the Python Challenge next year just as he did the first one in 2013.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission organized the first Python Challenge to raise awareness about the peril posed by the invasive snakes in the River of Grass, and also to encourage a lot of people to try catching the elusive prey. The prize for catching the most snakes was $1,500, and for the biggest snake, $1,000.

During the first hunt, more than 1,500 people from 38 states and Canada joined in, but caught only 50 snakes out of a population estimated to be 5,000 to 10,000. Among the empty-handed hunters was Nelson.

In January 2013 he rode out into the marshy wilderness aboard an airboat piloted by wildlife commissioner Ron "Alligator" Bergeron, a rodeo cowboy, developer and paving contractor. Nelson, wielding a machete, found no pythons to kill that day. (Bergeron subsequently helped the Everglades National Park superintendent capture a mating pair.)

Nelson blamed unseasonably warm weather for his failure, and expressed the hope that the 2016 hunt will be different.

"I need to go out there on a cold day," he said.

Nelson initiated the federal effort to ban trade of the dangerous reptiles.