During my stay in the Everglades, I encountered several people at the campground who were Burmese Python Bounty Hunters.
Now the words “Burmese Python hunter,” captured my attention and I immediately thought of all of my hunting friends back in VA who hunt deer, turkey, and squirrel with a rifle or compound bow, and thought to myself, how wimpy they are. These guys and gals carry no firearms but do carry large machetes, as I was told with a wink of his eye.
My camp neighbor was from Pennsylvania who stood just over 5’7,” weighing, 160 pounds on his third winter of hunting Burmese Pythons in the Everglades. He flies from Philadelphia PA international airport to Miami Fl International airport, rents a car, sleeps in a ground tent for shelter for several weeks, cooking on a camping stove and uses a cooler to keep his perishable food items fresh.
Oh, yes, the state of Florida encourages anyone who is without fear of wanting to wade through the swamp waters and back roads of the Everglades to search for Burmese Pythons snakes. The snakes are not indigenous to the Everglades and it is suspected that during a hurricane decades ago an animal store was destroyed allowing its collection of Pythons to escape into the Everglades.
My camp neighbor considers himself a conservationist who will return in the summer to seek out the female Pythons as their brood of 12-100 eggs begin to hatch. But, it is during the winter when he and many others capture and tag the male Pythons attaching GPS monitors to track their movements towards the females when they mate during the spring.
Ok, you raised your eyebrows was similar to mine when I heard this. 🙂
He talked about how the apex predator is no longer the alligator in the Everglades but is the Burmese Python because on November 4, 2018, Kyle Penniston of Homestead, Florida caught a 120-pound Burmese Python measuring 17 feet, 5 inches which is nearly as tall as a two-story building. It is also the record catch of being the longest Burmese Python ever caught in Florida netting him $375.00.
Florida conservation researchers have studied the Burmese python population and the data indicates the invasive Burmese Pythons snakes have caused a dramatic drop in the number of small game animals in the Everglades including medium size deer and some alligators.
I believe the research results are correct, because over the past five years of driving along the Tamiami Trail. The sight of dead rabbits, possums, and raccoons, who were struck by passing cars, laying on the shoulders of the roadway being devoured by Turkey Vultures performing their ritual clean-up duties is no longer seen.
Now every winter the state invite snake hunters from far and wide to wander into the Everglades to locate and humanely euthanize as many snakes as possible.
The snake hunters task is daunting because it is estimated that between 30,000 and 300,000 Burmese pythons have settled into southern Florida yet, for the past five years, the snake hunters have recorded euthanizing only 1000 snakes as of May 2018.
The python population grows far faster than hunters can catch them because the Burmese pythons reach sexual maturity at four years of age to breed successfully.
Pythons are a solitary reptile and are generally only seen together during the spring mating season. Females Pythons normally lay 12-36 eggs, but are capable of laying over 100, after a 60-90 days gestation period. The mother incubates the eggs by coiling on top of them. Incubation takes about 2 months after which hatchlings emerge. Once the hatchlings emerge they scatter to the far reaches of the Everglades, and another generation is on the move.
The Southwest Florida Water Management District Python Elimination Program pays eligible hunters $8.10 an hour to look for pythons on its vast landholdings, which encompass much of the Everglades, although not Everglades National Park. Hunters get a $50 bonus for every python measuring at least 4 feet, with $25 for each foot beyond. I say it is a pretty profitable deal if you are lucky enough to collect.
Python hunters are not limited to hunting in the Everglades. They can hunt on private lands with permission of the owner, but all pythons are humanely euthanized. To pursue the big snakes no permit required, just signing in with local authorities. The grand prizes includes a Florida Lifetime Sportsman License along with cash being awarded to the person who captures the largest and the most.
My camping neighbor offered me the opportunity to go with him to search for the snakes, claiming I could take some great photograph.
Now, for about one, one-thousand of a second, I thought about it. But, I took a quote from actor Clint Eastwood’s 1972 movie Magnum Force, I told my camping neighbor.
“A good man always knows his limitations.”
Cover photo by Michael Freifeld