Southern Florida contains a special ecosystem known as Everglades. It is unique in the world as it contains tropical wetlands and marshes which are part of the Neotropical biogeographic region of the globe. This leads to flora and fauna, as well as animal species, which are found in this area only.
However, in the last two decades, the wetlands have become infested with Burmese Pythons, which, as the name suggests, are native to the southeastern part of Asia around the country of Myanmar (earlier called Burma). These snakes were brought to the USA by people who sell animals to those interested in having exotic (and dangerous!) pets, illegally.
Their finding their way into Everglades is a result of some of them escaping and some being left there. The problem is this alien species, amongst the largest snakes in the world (they can grow up to over 20 feet long), are threatening the native species.
Efforts by authorities
So, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) launched a joint effort in 2017 to reduce the population of these pythons. They enlisted the help of python hunters who were offered rewards for catching members of this species.
By last year, the agencies had 50 people working on this mission. Now, the organisations have happily reported that the number of Burmese Pythons caught in the last three years has reached the 5000 mark. Since the total population of these slithering giants is estimated to be around 100,000, the job is far from done. But still, it is quite an achievement.
As ‘Alligator’ Ron Bergeron, member of SFWMD’s governing body said: “Every snake counts. Each invasive python eliminated represents hundreds of native Florida wildlife saved.”
Craze for python hunting
50 python hunters seems a large number but there were around 1000 applicants that applied for this job last year. The authorities have prepared a very unique rate-card to benefit the chosen hunters. They were given $8.65 for every hour they spent on searching for the snakes and if they caught one, the bounty would depend on the length of the serpent.
A snake measuring up to four feet in length would fetch $50. Every foot of length on the snake, above four, would earn an additional $25. But the jackpot is finding a python guarding a nest of eggs. That would bring a reward of $200. However, just wanting to be a snake hunter is not good enough. The authorities choose people with knowledge of the Everglades and experience.
Another very unique initiative was the ‘Python Bowl.’ It was launched at the same time as Super Bowl earlier this year. It was a special hunt for these snakes and the participants managed to net around 80, in return for which the received prize money.