MIAMI (CBS4) – The 2013 Python Challenge ended Sunday night, wrapping up a month of competition in the Florida Everglades designed to help reduce the Burmese python population in South Florida.
Not including the final weekend of the hunt, 50 Burmese pythons have been captured throughout the contest.
For Ruben Ramirez and George Branna, navigating through the thick brush of the Everglades in search of snakes is just another day on the job.
“We started catching snakes 27-years-ago,” Branna said.
But for the past month, their efforts have been focused strictly on Burmese pythons. The giant constrictors are not native to South Florida, but are all over the Everglades.
“We’ve been hunting since day one,” Ramirez said. He founded Florida Python Hunters. “We missed maybe four days (of the competition). So we’re pretty beat up.”
Ramirez and Branna are among the roughly 1,500 people who signed up for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Python Challenge.
Some participants are professionals, but most are new to the sport.
“A lot of people thought they were going to be running across pythons every 15, 20 feet. It’s not like that,” Ramirez said.
Ramirez and Branna have caught a few, but more often, they’re finding other species of snakes.
Despite the seemingly low number of these prolific pythons caught to date, wildlife experts are calling the hunt a huge success.
“We’re getting invaluable data that these pythons are going to be able to offer our biologists,” FWC Officer Jorge Pino said. “That way we an come up with a comprehensive plan of how to keep this from happening in the future.”
Experts think the python population has grown because owners have released the one-time pets into the wild.
Senator Bill Nelson has been an outspoken supporter of the python challenge. He participated in a day of hunting during the competition.
“We have to do it for the ecosystem here in south Florida. We do it regardless if there’s a python challenge or not,” Branna said. “It’s what we love to do.”
The winner of the challenge will be announced Saturday at an awards ceremony at Zoo Miami. The person who collected the most pythons will win $1,500. The person who captured the largest python takes home $1,000.
Overall, it seems like FWC will be the big winner. The event has garnered worldwide press and each participant had to pay $25 to register.