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Great "Python Challenge" continues!Posted Tuesday, January 22, 2013, at 7:17 AM
Though we did not see a single python on our Everglade adventure, we did see one alligator. In this photo, our air boat captain shows us how lethargic the alligators are in this cooler weather.
At 1 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 12, 2013, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission declared the opening of the "Python Challenge," a month-long contest which has attracted more than 1,000 amateur and professional "python hunters" to the Florida Everglades.
The culprit in this drama is the Burmese Python, a non-native species of snake which can reach lengths of 20 feet and can weigh as much as 160 pounds. Since 2000, over 2,000 of the invasive species have been killed or otherwise removed from the Everglades, but the prolific breeder continues to multiply in the warm waters of Florida, where it has no natural enemies. It would seem that even the alligator is no match for a fully grown python. The python is decimating the native population of mammals and birds.
Though many of the enthusiastic horde of hunters will never even get a glimpse of their elusive prey, the rewards for the victors are well worth the effort. The State of Florida is offering $5,000 in assorted prizes for the most and the longest snakes killed.
The snake hunters are urged to use "humane" methods to kill the pythons. The most frequent suggestion is to shoot the big snake in the head. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) says that the pythons can live up to 40 minutes after their heads are cut off, during which time they experience great pain--so it would seem that the shoot-in-the-head-with-high-caliber-bullet would be the best method.
In hopes of spotting a runaway python, this Missouri reporter visited the Everglades on the first day of the big hunt. Renting a seat on Jungle Erv's air boat rides in Everglades City, the intrepid reporter risked life and limb to explore 2,000 acres of mangrove islands, via a $40-a-person air boat ride with a hot-rodding captain, bent on testing the limits of the machine.
Though the boat captain had captured one python previously in the waters where he regularly toured, none of the reclusive snakes were seen on the first day of the big hunt.
In fact, since the tide was coming in, bringing salt water from the Gulf, it appeared that all but one local alligator had vacated the premises.
As if on cue, a large dark gator swam up to the bank, where the boat captain disembarked to look for the creatures. Several visitors left the safety of the boat to watch the captain toss marshmallows to this seemingly placid member of the reptile family. Fortunately, the only injury was a bump that an older lady received when her flip flops got caught on the seat of the air boat. Our guide reassured us by insisting that the gator was too cold to move fast.
Returning to port, the reporter and her company were treated to a boardwalk trip through the nearby jungle, after which she was persuaded to hold a relatively tame young gator named "Rosco."
At each step of the expedition, python stories were collected. These accounts all confirmed that the Burmese python is an elusive, unwelcome interloper in the Florida Everglades, but few people have actual first-hand experience with the big snake.
The alien snake is only one of an estimated 137 invasive species now inhabiting the warm, pleasant waters of Florida, but there can be no doubt that it is the most unwelcome and dangerous.
According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Service, the state has spent over 6 million dollars since 2005, in efforts to eradicate the python. A female python can lay up to 87 eggs at a time.
The "Python Challenge" is only the latest attempt to solve the slippery problem of killers lurking in the everglades, and authorities will not be able to assess the effectiveness of this bounty program until the contest ends on Feb. 10, 2013.
While residents of southeast Missouri battle the iciness of winter, they can console themselves with the fact that they will probably never face the prospect of pythons slithering out of the woods to snatch their pets.
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Madeline (Giles) DeJournett is the Advance writer for the North Stoddard Countian. A retired high school English/history teacher, she spent 32 years teaching in 5 schools in Missouri and Alaska. These days, she lives quietly with a menagerie of wild and domestic animals on 52 secluded acres in the remote Tillman hills south of Advance. She graduated from Dexter High School in 1960 and Southeast Missouri State in 1964. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.