The Florida Python Challenge 2022 starts Friday morning, a way to incentivize ridding the local ecosystem of an invasive species and protecting native wildlife.
There are many rules for participants. Python hunters must register themselves after completing an online training course and passing a quiz with a score of at least 85%. Most importantly, how do you go about killing a python?
There are a few methods, but the Florida Python Challenge insists that hunters kill the snakes in a humane manner or face disqualification from the competition. To prevent the Burmese pythons from suffering, the American Veterinary Medical Association says any method you choose should cause the reptile to lose consciousness immediately. Then, you should destroy the python’s brain by pithing (piercing or severing an animal’s spinal cord), which prevents it from regaining consciousness.
That might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but for Jeoffrey Roepstorff and his wife, hunting pythons is a rewarding experience, because the snakes are a threat to the ecosystem.
“They’re definitely invasive species, and they’re eating all the mammal population down there,” said Roepstorff, CEO of Edison National Bank. “And that’s why we started, you know. You can, you can do a lot of things, but when you remove a python from the Everglades, you’re also saving the mammals. And I think that’s why a lot of people are passionate about taking pythons out of the Everglades.”
The 10-day competition starts at 8 a.m. on Friday and goes until Aug. 14. Prizes will be given for killing the most pythons and the longest pythons. Impressive specimens have even been found right off of US-41 in Collier County.
Burmese pythons do not belong in Florida. The snakes found their way from pet stores into the Everglades and are unbalancing the ecosystem by preying on local birds and mammals. They will even eat alligators, out-competing the native predators for food. The Florida Python Challenge is meant to not only encourage people to remove these snakes from the wild, but to stop pet owners from releasing them in the first place.
“For us, python hunting is very much a passion,” Roepstorff said. “I mean, our family loves mammals. And the first time we went down there we never saw a raccoon and we never saw a possum and we never saw a rabbit. It was just snakes and alligators. We said, ‘We can do something about that.’ And that’s why we started python hunting.”
You can register for the Florida Python Challenge online, but you must take an online training course first. The training will educate participants on how to identify, report and safely, humanely kill Burmese pythons.