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Florida officials offer python hunting contest to deal with overpopulation of snakes

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
December 7th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Exasperated by the ongoing Burmese python overpopulation problem in Florida, officials are now encouraging locals to take part in a hunting contest. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission have announced the 2013 Python Challenge will begin next month.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - "We are hoping to gauge from the python challenge the effectiveness of using an incentive-based model as a tool to address this problem," Florida Wildlife Commission spokeswoman Carli Segelson says.

A kitty of $1,500 will be awarded to the person who kills the most pythons. A thousand dollars will go to the person who bags the longest one. Road kill will not be eligible .

Python hunters will need to lay out a $25 registration fee and complete an online training course, focusing on gun safety while hunting the snakes.

"It's very difficult to find these animals and we don't really have a good strategy on how to contain this population," Linda Friar, spokeswoman for Everglades National Park says. "This is a pilot to see if it will gain public interest in areas that you can hunt so that they would be able to remove and capture these snakes."

First found in the Everglades in 1979, the Burmese python is native to Southeast Asia. The snakes became an established species in the U.S. in 2000. It is believed that the snakes were originally pets that found their way into Everglades National Park.

A "river of grass," the Florida Everglades is a vast area with a climate perfect for the pythons to hide and thrive. And so they have. The largest Burmese python on record was found in the Everglades last August, its 17-foot, 6-inch carcass weighing in at 164.5 pounds.

It was a good thing they caught this particular snake in time, as researchers at the University of Florida found 87 eggs inside the snake.

"Tens of thousands" of Burmese pythons are believed to making the Everglades their home.

Researchers at Virginia Tech University, Davidson College and the U.S. Geological Survey had earlier reported that populations of rabbits and foxes have disappeared and numbers of raccoons, opossums and bobcats have dropped as much as 99 percent.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had since instituted a ban on the importation of Burmese pythons at the beginning of this year.

The Python Challenge has laid out four specific areas where the snakes can be harvested. The park is off-limits to the general public.

"The park is very restricted on what it can do as far as animal captures and removal," Friar said.

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