It’s no secret to anyone by now that Burmese Pythons are a huge problem in South Florida. Several methods of capturing them or tracking these invaders have been utilized, with success, but it is not putting a big enough dent in the population explosion as these reptiles continue to wreak havoc on our ecosystems.
In the past, several “python roundups” have been initiated to try and get a lot of people outdoors to try and capture these snakes. However, only a handful of folks were really serious about this program. So here we go again!
On December 5th, Governor Ron DeSantis announced that there will be a 2020 Python Challenge and registration is now open. “The protection of our environment and natural resources is critical,” stated the Governor. “Invasive Burmese Pythons have decimated local wildlife and pose a massive threat to natural food chains and flora and fauna. The 2020 Python Bowl is sure to be a great success, and I look forward to positive effects it will have on preserving and protecting the Everglades ecosystem.”
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Eric Sutton also chimed in, “This is not a case of many different agencies doing their own thing, this is one mission supported by a diverse portfolio of assets of different partners, including the sportsmen and women that dedicate so much of their time and effort for conservation. As a conservation biologist, it is exciting to be completely aligned with our policymakers including FWC commissioners and the Governor to combat this important conservation issue.”
South Florida Water Management District (SWFMD) Executive Director Drew Bartlett added, “Governor Ron DeSantis is making a difference in restoring the Everglades and tackling Florida’s python problem. The Governor is directing more resources and putting new energy into removing these harmful pythons from the greater Everglades ecosystem.”
If you want to be a part of this program, which begins January 10th, 2020, members of the general public must first complete a training class that is offered online. An in-person training offers the chance for the public to learn the identification of this species and to safely handle a live python as well as performing proper capture techniques. Anyone can sign up at flpythonchallenge.org
There will be specific rules to follow and it will be important to know and understand what you can and cannot do. Some areas will be designated for hunting while others will be off-limits, so know your rules.
Governor DeSantis also announced that python contractors already being paid to hunt these predators will be able to access over 150 miles of secondary trails in Big Cypress National Park, areas previously not accessible to these specialists.
So, how many of these snakes are out there and why is it such a huge concern? Let’s create a scenario. Burmese Pythons are egg layers and produce a clutch of 80-100 eggs each year. For our example, let’s say that the female only produces 80 eggs every 2 years. Here we go…
Let’s say it is the year 2010 and a female lays 80 eggs, half of which are female. 2 years later there are now 40 females producing 80 eggs, half of which are female, so we now have 1,600 ladies on the loose. 2 years later, 2014, 1,600 females produce 40 more females for a total of 6,400 females. In 2016, 64,000 females produce 40 more females each for a total of 2,560,000 female Burmese Pythons in South Florida. This only took 6 years!
Are there really that many pythons, or more, in Florida? We did not factor an attrition rate, which could consider the young females that do not reach an age to reproduce. What is that number? No one really knows for sure.
However, one thing is sure. These creatures are eating their way across the Everglades, decimating mammal and bird populations in some areas by 95%.
They will never be completely eradicated from our area so any means to control the population will be a plus.
I competed in a Python Challenge several years ago with my wife Cathy (a Master Naturalist) and two friends, Steve and Janel Gimmestad. We trained properly and hunted in areas suggested by the authorities. We called ourselves Team H.I.S.S. (Hapless Individuals Seeking Snakes) and, on several outings, we never saw a python. They are not going to jump out and say, “Here I am!” You have to recognize habitat and signs to be successful.
One thing is sure, and that is help is needed. So, if you want to wrangle a python, sign up and give it a try. Learn all of the rules, get the proper training and be careful. Good luck, Python Rangers! Go get ‘em!
Bob is a Naturalist on board the dolphin survey vessel Dolphin Explorer and an award-winning columnist for this paper. He is the author of two books, available locally, and a regular speaker at area events. Bob loves his wife very much!