DAVIE (CBSMiami/AP) — A month-long hunt to eradicate Burmese pythons began Saturday, attracting nearly 800 people to hunt the invasive species.
The “Python Challenge” is being put on by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which is offering cash prizes to whoever brings in the longest python and whoever bags the most pythons.
The contest marks the first time the public, who usually lack the permits required to harvest pythons on public lands, is joining licensed hunters in the search for the snakes.
“We feel like anybody can get out in the Everglades and figure out how to try and find these things,” said Nick Wiley, executive director of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. “It’s very safe, getting out in the Everglades. People do it all the time.”
The event is drawing both experienced hunters and amateurs alike.
“If there is a tactic, I don’t know it,” Steve Martinez told CBS 4’s Lauren Pastrana. “We’re just out here to have a little fun.”
Martinez, along with his brother and cousin, spent hours walking through the one of the designated wildlife management areas Saturday looking for the giant constrictors.
“From what we’ve read, they’re pretty much eating everything out here,” Pablo Martinez said. “So I said, ‘Why not?’ Come out here and have a good time, and at the same time we’re helping out the eco-system. I think it’s a win-win.”
The Martinez brothers are just two of the almost 800 people registered for the 2013 Python Challenge.
“The python does not belong here and we are trying to do the best we can to control the population, and if we can eradicate it, that’s certainly something we will try to do,” FWC Spokesman Jorge Pino said.
Pino said most of the non-native pythons slithering through South Florida come from pet owners who dumped them there.
He hopes the hunt will educate them to become responsible owners.
“The snake thing isn’t new to me. I love the Glades. I love this environment,” Garrett Miller said at the kick-off event in Davie Saturday. He has experience capturing large snakes. He advised rookies to use caution and to try not to get lost in the wild.
The person who brings home the most pythons wins $1,500.
The prize for the longest python is $1,000.00.
Dozens of would-be python hunters showed up for some last-minute training in snake handling Saturday morning at the University of Florida Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center in Davie.
The training came down to common sense: Drink water, wear sunscreen, don’t get bitten by anything and don’t shoot anyone.
Many of the onlookers dressed in camouflage, though they probably didn’t have to worry about spooking the snakes. They would have a much harder time spotting the splotchy, tan pythons in the long green grasses and woody brush of the Everglades.
Doing his best to blend in, Steve Martinez searched all day.
“We’re poking and hoping! That’s about it,” Martinez said. “As a rookie, I’m not a professional. We go poking around looking for snakes. Hopefully, we run in to one.”
He had no such luck in a spot near the Broward-Palm Beach County line.
So after Day 1 of the challenge, there are still plenty of pythons for the picking…
“Hopefully long-term, it will benefit the Glades and South Florida as a whole,” Miller said.
The Python Challenge ends at midnight on Sunday, February 10th.