MIAMI (CBS4) – Senator Bill Nelson donned his boots and jeans Thursday as he joined an entourage of rock star snake hunters. The Senator was hoping to bring attention to a month long state tournament aimed at wiping out pythons.
“This non-native species that has invaded is here and it is destroying the ecological balance of the Everglades.” Nelson said.
For years pythons have been making headlines in the Everglades as photos surface of them eating alligators, deer, and other impressive feats. Just how many of them are out there though is debatable.
“There may be as many as 150,000 of these snakes just in the Everglades National Park. Why? Because they proliferate so much. For example they found as 17 foot female and she had 56 eggs in her,” Nelson told a gaggle of reporters.
Standing just feet away though Shawn Hefflick, a biologist and hunter shrugged.
“The reality is no one knows an exact number,” Hefflick said. “Anyone who says 100,000 or 150,000 is either misleading on purpose or ignorant of the facts of what’s going on out here. There have never been that many snakes in the Everglades.”
Hefflick and his partner are considered to be some of the best hunters in the state when it comes to finding pythons. Between the two they have rounded up dozens. Both Hefflick and Nelson can agree there are likely thousands of snakes in the Everglades.
Are they a threat? No one can say definitely.
Nelson, worried endangered species may be threatened has sponsored bills banning pythons importation in US and now the sale across state lines. The Senator is now campaigning for an open python hunting season on Everglades National Park.
“We are going to have to chance the rules for this National Park, so that it will allow hunting of this species in the park.” Nelson said.
The reality is there are more than 1000 registered hunters statewide searching out these critters. Collectively, they have brought in roughly a dozen snakes. Simply put, the job may be too hard.
Nelson told CBS4, “We don’t have any choice. We got to try.”
Many of the hunters believe the snakes demise may be better left in mother natures hands.
Greg Graziani, a hunter, explained, “I don’t know if total eradication is possible. Definitely with Mother Natures help. We get severe weather that will certainly help.”
The pythons can’t survive the cold weather. In fact, dozen of dead pythons were found a couple of years ago during cold snaps.
At the end of the day all five airboats came back empty-handed. Despite wading in knee deep water, the group of more than 20 didn’t see a single snake.
The Senator stepped off his airboat and concluded, “We were certainly in the habitat but they didn’t happen to turn out.”