The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has announced that it will hold a month-long competition starting January 12, 2013, "to see who can harvest the longest and the most Burmese pythons" from designated public lands in southern Florida. The goal is to raise awareness about the threat this invasive species poses to the Everglades ecosystem, and to generate "additional information on the python population in south Florida and enhance our research and management efforts." Python hunting permit holders, as well as members of the general public, are invited to compete for the cash prizes of $1500 for the most pythons killed and $1000 for the longest python killed.
The Burmese python is one of the largest snakes in the world. (In August researchers at the University of Florida reported the capture of a 17.7-foot-long specimen--the biggest one ever found in the state.) And there's good evidence that these constricting snakes, which are native to Asia, are bad news for the Everglades ecosystem. In January researchers published a paper implicating the python in the dramatic decline of raccoons, bobcats and other mammals there.
But allowing anyone over the age of 18 to register and go out and hunt giant snakes on public lands? What could possibly go wrong?
Contest rules require that all participants complete a 30-minute online training course on detecting and documenting the pythons and that they dispatch the snakes "using humane methods," guidelines for which are available. But compare those rules to the more stringent requirements already on the books for obtaining an FWC python removal permit, which specify that applicants must, among other things, "have experience capturing wild snakes, handling aggressive snakes and working in remote areas."
How reliably can a novice sort Burmese pythons from native Florida snakes--some of which are venomous--in the wild after 30 minutes of preparation online? And obvious human safety concerns aside, can someone who has never handled snakes before really be counted on to kill a large constrictor humanely in the heat of the moment? Check out those euthanasia guidelines--they're more complicated than you might think.
The Burmese python is a very real problem for Florida's residents--humans and wildlife alike. But the 2013 Python Challenge does not seem like the wisest way to tackle it.