The head of a 3m-long Burmese python that was captured in
an earlier hunt in the Florida Everglades. (Mike
A python hunting competition starting on Saturday is
drawing hundreds of amateurs armed with clubs, machetes and
guns to the Florida Everglades, where captured Burmese pythons
have exceeded the length of minivans and weighed as much as
Python Challenge 2013, a month-long event sponsored by the
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, is open to
hunters and non-hunters alike.
But the idea of luring weapon-wielding amateurs into the
harsh environment of the Everglades has raised some alarms.
"I just thought it was as exciting as could be. It's a
once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," said contestant Ron Polster,
a retired salesman from Ohio whose closest encounter with the
swamp has been from the highway heading south for the winter.
Participants pay a $25 entry fee and take an online training
course, which consists mostly of looking at photographs of
both the targeted pythons and protected native snakes to
learn the difference.
The state wildlife agency is offering prizes of $1500 for the
most pythons captured and $1,000 for the longest python.
A Burmese python found in Florida last year set records as
the largest ever captured in the state at 5.4m. The snake
weighed nearly 75kg.
FWC spokeswoman Carli Segelson said the number of registered
contestants reached about 500 this week and was growing, with
people coming from 32 states.
The stated goal of the competition is to raise awareness of
the threat Burmese pythons pose to the Everglades ecosystem.
The snakes are native to Southeast Asia and have no known
predators in Florida.
The contest also serves as a pilot programme to determine
whether regular hunting competitions can cull the growing
population of the invasive species, said Frank Mazzotti, a
wildlife expert from the University of Florida who helped
create the competition.
Python Challenge rules require contestants to kill specimens
on the spot in a humane fashion, recommending shooting the
snakes precisely through the brain.
"I was hoping there would be a lot of machetes and not a lot
of guns," said Polster, the retired salesman. He said he
worries "these idiots will be firing all over the place."
Shawn Heflick, star of the National Geographic "Wild"
television show "Python Hunters," told Reuters that despite
the formidable size of the snakes, he expects the swamp
itself, with its alligators, crocodiles and venomous snakes,
to pose a greater threat to the contestants.
"You get these people going down there, they'll get lost,
they'll get dehydrated, they'll get sucked dry by
mosquitoes," Heflick said.
Segelson said the wildlife agency will provide training on
the use of GPS devices and on identifying venomous snakes at
the kick-off event. In the meantime, she said, contestants
should be familiarizing themselves with the Everglades
environment, just as they should before entering any other
Heflick said most of the contestants likely were drawn to the
Python Challenge by the romantic mystique of bagging a giant
predator. He expects few will last long in the hunt.
"The vast majority of them will never see a python. The vast
majority of them will probably curtail their hunting very
quickly when they figure out there's a lot of mosquitoes,
it's hot, it's rather boring sometimes - most of the time
really, and I think a lot of them will go home," Heflick