Challenge Participants Aim to Reduce Invasive Constrictors
Snake hunters got off to a fast start in Florida’s Burmese Python Removal Competition, and officials hope those efforts will increase abatement of the non-native snakes from the Everglades.
As of Jan. 18, participants in the hunt, part of the 2016 Python Challenge, had registered 17 Burmese pythons, according to pythonchallenge.org. The effort began Jan. 16 and runs through Feb. 14. During the first Python Challenge, held in 2013, about 1,600 participants registered 68 snakes.
“Pythons have increased dramatically in both abundance and geographic range in southern Florida since 2000,” the U.S. Geological Survey said on its website. “Based on the geographic extent of the Burmese python population in Florida and knowledge of detection rates for other snakes, experts estimate that a population of at least tens of thousands now live in the wild in Florida, but stress that this estimate is extremely rough.”
Burmese pythons, large constricting snakes that can grow longer than 20 feet and heavier than 200 pounds, were first reported near saline glades and mangroves at the southern part of Everglades National Park in the 1980s, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission. Officials believe the snakes escaped from a breeding facility destroyed during Hurricane Andrew and that people have released pet pythons near the Everglades. Pythons are native to India, the Malay Peninsula, southern China and some East Indies islands.
Since biologists recognized the Everglades’ python problem, populations of previously common mammals in that area have decreased dramatically, according to USGS research.
“The university and federal scientists who conducted the study found that the most severe declines in mammals appear to have occurred in the remote southernmost regions of the park, where pythons have been established the longest,” the agency said. “In this area, observations of raccoons dropped 99.3 percent, opossums 98.9 percent and bobcats 87.5 percent. Marsh and cotton-tailed rabbits, as well as foxes, were not seen at all in recent years, despite having been present in the 1990s.”
More than 600 people from 24 states have paid $25 apiece to participate in the 2016 challenge, according to Fox News. The winner will receive $3,500.
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Brian Lovett, Realtree's news blogger, has been an outdoors reporter, writer, magazine editor and book author for 27 years. Spring turkey hunting and autumn waterfowling take up most of his outside time, but he also enjoys fishing, deer hunting and upland-bird hunting. Lovett lives in Oshkosh, Wis., with his wife, Jenny, and their retriever.