Fla Gov DeSantis kicks off the ‘Python Challenge’ and it’s the ultimate Florida event

Governor Ron DeSantis kicked off the annual 10-day Everglades Python Challenge this week that invites hunters from across the world to come to Florida and ferret out invasive Burmese pythons.

“We love the Python Challenge,” DeSantis proclaimed on Thursday. Later he would fearlessly juggle one of the big snakes with handlers in a photo-op wearing a big smile. “I mean, these things will eat everything,” the governor noted. “They’re just running roughshod over all the other species. That’s not what we want.”

Previously, the hunt took place every three years but with the explosive proliferation of the snakes in the Everglades, it is now an annual event. Burmese pythons can grow up to 20 feet in length and weigh in at 200 pounds. The snakes are taking over large parts of Florida’s ecosystem and are inundating the food chain. They eat anything within their reach.

“As part of my focus on restoring the Everglades, I’ve charged FWC with dedicating more resources and taking innovative approaches to removing invasive Burmese pythons,” DeSantis announced.

(Video Credit: WPTV News)

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission considers Burmese pythons a “high priority” for control in order to protect the state’s natural resources. Scientists estimate there are somewhere between 100,000 and 300,000 pythons living in the Everglades.

Pythons win the race in the competition with local wildlife for food. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, a number of animal declines in the Everglades National Park have been linked to Burmese pythons.

The giant snakes have been in residence in the remote southernmost regions of Everglades National Park for a long time. That area has seen the most severe declines in native species. According to a 2012 report, raccoon and opossum populations dropped by 99 percent. Bobcats have dropped in number by 87 percent since 1997. Smaller mammals such as foxes, cottontail rabbits, and marsh rabbits basically no longer exist in the area.

DeSantis remarked that if the pythons are left unchecked, it could interfere with other Everglades restoration efforts, which is a stated priority for the governor.

(Video Credit: WPBF 25 News)

Efforts to remove the snakes include a python detector dog program as well as a Python Action Team that consists of people who are paid to remove and turn in pythons to FWC.

Hunting pythons is legal in the state but during the Python Challenge, hunters are invited from all over the world to take their best shot at bagging the predators. They compete for a number of prizes.

“There’s people from all over the world that want to come do the Python Challenge,” DeSantis declared.

Prizes are awarded for removing the longest python, bagging the most pythons, and removing the heaviest of the beasts. Contestant Mike Kimmel won an ATV last year for removing eight pythons. Tom Rahill snagged $2,000 for removing the longest python. It measured 12 feet, 7.3 inches. Rahill also won a prize for the heaviest python, which weighed in at 62 pounds and came with a $2,000 purse. Rewards this year could go as high as $2,500.

“We’ve also expanded access for python removers in the state parks, as well as worked with the U.S. Department of Interior to increase access to federal lands for python removal — particularly within the Big Cypress National Preserve,” DeSantis explained. “And as a result of our efforts, FWC had a record year for python removal in 2020. It was about a 35% increase in the number of pythons, year over year between 2019 and 2020.”

“We’ve done almost 5,500 pythons removed from the Everglades since I’ve become governor,” DeSantis reported.

“I think what we did, under the governor’s leadership is working to develop a plan with our federal partners to get more access into remote areas, to work in the Big Cypress, to open up secondary trails in order for python hunters to get into somewhere around 100,000 acres for the python,” South Florida Water Management District board member Ronald “Alligator Ron” Bergeron said.

The Python Challenge takes place from July 9 through July 18. Registration opened on Thursday.

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