The inaugural "Python Challenge" is now one for the record books, with hunters bringing in a total of 68 Burmese pythons during the month-long competition held to help rid Florida of the invasive species.
Prizes were awarded Saturday during a ceremony at Zoo Miami to hunters who harvested the most pythons and to those who bagged the longest snake in two categories -- one for the general public and one for established snake-hunting permit holders.
The $1,500 grand prize for harvesting the most Burmese pythons went to Brian Barrows, from Fort Myers, Fla., who harvested six pythons in the general category, and Ruben Ramirez, of Miami, who harvested 18 pythons in the permit holders competition.
The longest snake captured measured 14 feet, 3 inches, and was harvested by Paul Shannon, from Lehigh Acres, Fla., competing in the general competition. For comparison, the longest Burmese python ever captured in Florida measured 17 feet, 7 inches.
Nearly 1,600 people from 38 states, the District of Columbia and Canada had registered for the event.
Hosted by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the goal of the Python Challenge was to heighten public awareness about this invasive species and its impact on wildlife and the ecosystem, especially in Everglades National Park, where they are predominently found.
"Thanks to the determination of Python Challenge competitors, we are able to gather invaluable information that will help refine and focus combined efforts to control pythons in the Everglades," FWC Executive Director Nick Wiley said.
Burmese pythons, which are native to India, China, and the Malay Peninsula, have been found in the wild in Florida since the 1980s. Snake owners who released pythons when they became too large to manage are believed largely responsible for this troubling phenomenon. The snakes, which are reproducing in the wild, have become a threat to native wildlife.
In Florida, Burmese pythons prey on small mammals, birds, and even small alligators. Because they grow to such a large size, adult snakes have few predators other than larger alligators and humans.
-- Kelly Burgess
Image courtesy of Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission