Created on: January 15, 2013 Last Updated: January 16, 2013
Armed with machetes, guns and beers, almost 1000 amateur and seasoned snake hunters from more than 30 US states are expected to converge upon Florida Everglades in order to compete in the month-long Python Challenge. Their mission, should they choose to accept it, is to harvest the growing population of Burmese pythons, help researchers at University of Florida gather more information about the snakes’ habits and earn some money while saving the ecosystem from the slithering saboteurs.
The Burmese pythons are a large, non venomous constrictor that is an invasive species in Florida. According to information listed on PetWatch.com, the Burmese Python is one of the world’s largest snakes and is native to the rainforests of Southeast Asia. They grow rapidly and full grown pythons can reach 15 to 20 feet in length and weigh up to 200 pounds. They often live for 20 years or more in captivity.
They became common in the US because of a thriving pet trade. Once some owners realize that it is too difficult to keep an adult snake in captivity, they are released into the wild without realizing the long-term repercussions of this irresponsible act. Today, in the US, Burmese pythons are found primarily in the Everglades, where the slithering reptiles represent a major threat to the ecosystem. They have no natural predators and their population in the vast swamps outside Miami is believed to have grown to over 100,000 in number.
The impact of the proliferation of Burmese pythons across Florida’s Everglades has been tremendous and very damaging. "Pythons are wreaking havoc on one of America's most beautiful, treasured and naturally bountiful ecosystems," says USGS Director Marcia McNutt, terming the whole scenario “an ecological mess.”
Burmese pythons are not very choosy when it comes to their diet. They are carnivorous and are large enough to eat almost any species of animal or bird in their adopted habitat. They are known to prey on native Florida species of mammals, birds and reptiles, as well as other nonnative species. Once hungry, they can even tackle an alligator or two.
CNN reports that rabbits and foxes have disappeared in the Everglades while raccoon, opossum and bobcat populations have dropped as much as 99% in recent years. Burmese pythons also devour pet animals like cats, dogs and farm animals like roosters and geese.
With Florida Everglades ecosystem severely endangered, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and its partners have launched the 2013 Python Challenge hoping to enlist the help of both the general public and python permit holders in the quest to contain the population of this menace.
According to the competition’s official website, PythonChallenge.org, the Python Challenge is expected to run from January 12th, 2013 till February 10th, 2013, in which there is a general competition for public and another for python permit holders. In addition to some general prizes, a $1,500 grand prize will be awarded to the person or group that manages to capture most Burmese pythons while the incentive for capturing the longest Burmese python is $1,000 prize.
In addition to curtailing their population, another major objective of the Burmese python hunt is to highlight the importance of responsible pet ownership so that exotic and nonnative species such as Burmese pythons are not released into the wild by their owners.
It is yet to be seen how successful this hunt will be against this deadly menace but Florida officials will be happy to know that there is no shortage of volunteers, ecological enthusiasts and snake hunters in their war against the invasive species.
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