The 30-pound female Burmese python used for display purposes Thursday, the python that was held by Gov. Ron DeSantis and other state officials, likely had no idea it and its relatives were being targeted in a statewide eradication effort.
It probably also had no idea Florida was conducting a study in December to determine whether mercury levels in pythons were low enough that the snakes could be safely consumed. There’s no final word on that topic, but at least one Floridian, Donna Kalil, the state’s first certified female python hunter, says she enjoys python jerky three times a week.
The python used in Thursday’s announcement, held off of Tamiami Trail (U.S. Highway 41) near the Miccosukee Casino, was brought in to help DeSantis announce registration is open for the 2021 Florida Python Challenge, which is scheduled for July 9-18. Prizes will be awarded for most snakes caught and longest snakes caught.
The 10-day Florida Python Challenge is intended to bring awareness to the invasive species problem in South Florida and engage the public in Everglades conservation through invasive species removal. Pythons must be killed humanely.
The event, held under the direction of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the South Florida Water Management District, is normally held in January. It was pushed back this year to maximize the python haul and keep hunters safe from the threat of COVID-19. Python nests hatch in the summer so there’s a chance of them gathering in greater numbers at this time of year, according to the FWC.
Pythons are a non-native invasive species in Florida that has been blamed for eating a large number of small animals in the Everglades such as rabbits, birds, and reptiles, and generally disrupting the ecosystem. A female python can lay between 50 to 100 eggs at one time, according to the FWC.
“These things will eat everything,” DeSantis said. “We spend all this money and we want to do all this stuff to restore, yet if they’re just running roughshod over all the other species that’s not what we want.”
“Without a natural food chain, you can’t have a healthy environment,” said SFWMD governing board member Ron Bergeron.
DeSantis said he has increased the frequency of the hunt, from once every three years to once a year, and has also boosted the number of places where the snakes can be captured.
“We’ve also expanded access for python removers in the state parks as well as work with the U.S. Department of Interior to increase access to federal lands for python removal, particularly within the Big Cypress National Preserve,” he said, “and as a result of our efforts FWC had a record year for python removal in 2020.”
The FWC said more than 5,250 pythons have been removed from Florida since 2019, and more than 13,000 Burmese pythons have been removed since 2000. Certified Florida python hunters do their jobs year-round.
The 2020 Florida Python Challenge resulted in the capture of 80 pythons by more than 750 people from 20 states.
For more information on joining the Florida Python Challenge visit FLPythonChllenge.org.