Florida begins mass purge of pythons from public lands

Burmese python

Burmese python

Every time anyone — an individual or a government — tries to fool with Mother Nature, she fights back, and the results are seldom pleasant.

January won’t just herald the New Year; it will also kick off a month-long harvesting program of Burmese pythons from public lands. The 2013 Python Challenge will begin Jan. 12, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission announced Wednesday.

“Why should we have a Burmese python problem here?” you may ask. “Shouldn’t they all be in Burma?”

Florida has an infestation of the critters for the exact same reason the United States has a kudzu problem and an Asian carp problem — because someone thought it might be a nice idea to introduce them here. And once they did, Mother Nature bit back — with a vengeance.

Although I applaud Florida’s attempt to at least try to solve the problem, I fear that it’s akin to Capt. Edward Smith distributing teaspoons to the passengers of the Titanic with instructions to start bailing — a noble effort yielding few results.

In this respect, Florida is at least realistic.

“Part of the goal of the Python Challenge is to educate the public to understand why non-native species like Burmese pythons should never be released into the wild and encourage people to report sightings of exotic species,” Kristen Sommers, head of the FWC’s Exotic Species Coordination Section, told TCPalm. “We also expect the competitive harvesting of Burmese pythons to result in additional information on the python population in South Florida and enhance our research and management efforts.”

The pythons were released into the wild by those who purchased them when they were still small and cute — or at least as cute as a snake is capable of being. When they began reaching adulthood and became unwieldy, rather than donate them for research or display, they set them free. Since then, they’ve been multiplying like — well, snakes.

The state is offering a $1,500 prize for harvesting the most pythons, and $1,000 for the longest python bagged. The prizes will be offered in two divisions — open competition and for python permit holders.

The competition will begin at 10 a.m. at the University of Florida’s Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center in Davie. Those interested should visit PythonChallenge.org for more information.

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