At the beginning of this year, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission held a competition to boost awareness about one of the Everglades’ most imposing invasive species -- the Burmese python. The 2013 Python Challenge set 1,600 hunters from 38 states, the District of Columbia and Canada out on a mission to harvest the most pythons and the longest python during the month-long competition period.
Hunters who competed in the Python Challenge tallied up a total of 68 Burmese pythons during the competition, which ran from Jan. 12 to Feb. 10.
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Despite the impressive harvest, the competition was no cakewalk. The Burmese python population in the area sits at about 100,000, according to CNN, but they’re very tough to find, presenting the competition’s hunters with a real trial.
"You can go out there for days and days and days and not see one python," snake hunter Justin Matthews told CNN Miami affiliate WSVN. "I don't care how much experience you have. It is going to take some luck."
Brian Barrows took home the $1,500 Grand Prize for harvesting the most Burmese pythons by bagging six in the General Competition. The $1,500 Grand Prize for most harvested pythons in the Python Permit Holders Competition went to Ruben Ramirez, who harvested 18.
Paul Shannon took the $1,000 prize for harvesting the longest Burmese python in the General Competition, with a harvest of a 14-foot, 3-inch-long python. In the Python Permit Holders Competition, Blake Russ took the $1,000 first prize with an 11-foot, 1-inch-long python.
Along with taking a bite out of the invasive species population and raising awareness, the competition’s hunters also contributed precious data about Burmese pythons to the commission.
"Thanks to the determination of Python Challenge competitors, we are able to gather invaluable information that will help refine and focus combined efforts to control pythons in the Everglades," said commission executive director Nick Wiley in a news release.
For more information on the competition and the threat of Burmese pythons to the Everglades ecosystem, please visit http://www.pythonchallenge.org/.