Out with the amateurs, in with the pros. That’s the key takeaway from Florida’s announcement that it won’t repeat this year’s public python hunt in 2014. Instead, the state is choosing to focus its snake-culling efforts on “programs that train licensed hunters” to kill the invasive predators.
January’s state-sponsored "Python Challenge" saw more than 1,600 hunters, the vast majority of them novices, venture into the Everglades in search of the estimated 100,000 slithering giants that inhabit its lush swamplands.
Problem was, the monthlong event netted only 68 pythons. Officials were quick to couch the meager haul in a positive light, arguing that the number of pythons killed wasn't as essential as the data collected during the hunt, which is still being analyzed by University of Florida researchers.
"Certainly our work is not done with pythons," said Carli Segelson, a spokesperson for Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
In lieu of the “come one, come all” snake hunt, Segelson said the state would ask that licensed hunters kill pythons while they're on state lands hunting for other animals. And the state would continue to train law enforcement officers who regularly work in areas known to contain pythons on how to properly kill them.
Insatiable eaters, the constrictors are eviscerating the state’s small mammals. A January 2012 study estimated that Florida’s raccoon population had fallen by 99.3 percent, opossum by 98.9 percent, and bobcat by 87.5 percent between 2003 and 2011.
The pythons first arrived in the 1980s from their native South Asia as part of the exotic pet trade. State officials trace the population boom to the 1990s, when pet owners incapable of caring for adult pythons (which can grow up to 18 feet in length and weigh as much as 200 pounds) may have intentionally released them into the wild. And up to 4,000 pythons may have accidentally escaped a Miami-area breeding facility in 1992 after Hurricane Andrew deluged the city.
Previous mitigation efforts have included snake-sniffing dogs, promoting python skin as a material for high-fashion products, such as handbags, and specially designed traps patented by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.