Approximately 800 armed citizens descended upon South Florida over the weekend in search of one kind of prey. Pythons. Burmese pythons.
Pythons have been decimating the Florida landscape since the first one was found in the 1980s. With no natural predators, the exotic species have been wiping out the endangered and threatened species that used to call Florida home. According to the Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission, roughly 2,050 pythons have been harvested in Florida since 2000. But the numbers have continued to swell.
In response, the Commission organized a 30-day python hunt, dubbed the Python Challenge with the hope of ridding the Florida Everglades of the pests while raising awareness about the risks that pythons and other exotic species pose to Florida's native wildlife.
The Python Challenge kicked off over the weekend with roughly 800 people signed up to participate. The vast majority -- 749 -- are amateur python hunters who don't have the permits usually necessary to hunt pythons on public lands. There are also about 30 or so python permit holders who joined the hunt and will try their luck at winning a piece of the cash prizes that the state is giving away for the longest python bagged and the most pythons caught.
The Challenge began on Saturday morning with some last-minute training in snake handling and distinguishing pythons from native snake species. The training boiled down to common sense: Wear sunscreen, stay hydrated, don't get bitten, and don't shoot anyone. The Python Challenge will end at midnight on February 10th.
But hunting pythons may be harder than it looks. Even with 800 armed citizens out looking to make a catch, the Commission has not yet confirmed that any pythons have been brought in to their drop off locations.
For right now at least, it's advantage python.