Two Florida agencies trying to rid the Everglades of invasive Burmese pythons announced Tuesday they have in roughly three years removed 5,000 snakes.
It’s impossible to say exactly how much of a dent that represents in the overall population of pythons, which eat up native populations of possums, rabbits, raccoons and other animals, throwing the ecosystem off balance. Their population is undetermined but thought to measure in the tens of thousands.
To combat the species’ spread, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and South Florida Water Management District have paid trappers to capture and kill the pythons, offering hourly rates for time spent in the brush and cash bonuses for longer snakes. The efforts began in 2017.
The pythons, in addition to being adept at killing, are known for being hard to find. They are tan and have dark spots. They like to hang out around water and slither up trees. The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission encourages residents “to kill wild caught pythons whenever possible.” It’s legal to do so on numerous tracts of public land and also on private property as long as the owner gives permission.
The longest such snake ever caught in Florida measured more than 18 feet, wildlife officials say.
Python hunts don’t always rack up huge numbers. Earlier this year, an event coinciding with the Super Bowl in Miami, the “Python Bowl,” touted “big snakes and bigger prizes” — including an all terrain vehicle — and brought down 80 pythons.
The U.S. Geological Survey says Floridians should focus on controlling the population because it’s unlikely the state will ever get rid of the snakes completely.
A spokeswoman for the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said the agency’s Python Action Team has removed more than 1,700 snakes since early 2017 while the Water Management District’s program has taken in nearly 3,400. Wildlife officials believe the snakes’ population might have bloomed from escaped or released pets.
The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has said that while most of the snakes have lived around the Everglades, some are moving further north.
People who spot invasive wildlife are urged to report their sightings to the state exotic species hotline at 888-483-4681 (IveGot1) or at IveGot1.org.